Car accessories

Is Transportation Infrastructure the Secret to China’s Success?

According to a recent study, the Chinese government spends more money on infrastructure every year than North America and Western Europe combined.

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that China has consistently invested heavily in roads, rails, and ports, perhaps indicating that the country will be prepared given advantageous changes in the global economy.

chin“Infrastructure investment has actually gone down in half the G20 economies,” explained Jan Mischke, senior fellow at McKinsey Global Institute. Mische worked on the report and found that the downturn in infrastructure investment is likely rooted in the great recession of 2009. That said, the economic down turn of the last decade has done little to slow China’s infrastructural expansion.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, China spent 8.6% of its GDP on building roads, railways, airports, seaports, and other key development projects spanning from 1992 to 2013. These investments are all part of an effort by the country to make people and goods easily transferable throughout the nation, strengthening China’s economy. In the same amount of time, Western Europe, the US and Canada all spent somewhere closer to 2.5 percent of their GDP on similar projects. The Western countries can barely keep old cars off the road, much less create new roads. 

“The report is an important wake-up call about the perils of under-investment in infrastructure,” offered Robert Puentes, a senior fellow specializing in metropolitan policy at the Washington-based think tank, the Brookings Institution. “The super-charged growth in China’s economy is fueled by these investments in infrastructure.”

In Europe and North America, aging infrastructure is quickly becoming a major problem. The US Department of Transportation released a study finding that over 61,000 bridges in America are “structurally deficient” just last year. In 2013, the UK government put forward a 100 billion bound infrastructure plan, adding that the UK had “for centuries been pioneers in infrastructure” but in recent decades “let this proud record slip.”

chinaThat said, the infrastructural challenges of America and Western Europe differ greatly from those of countries like China and India, where emerging and quickly expanding markets are calling for entirely new infrastructure to be built as opposed to re-built like in the Western nations.

In addition, many of the Western nations spend their money on programs that are absent from China and India.

“If the US spent zero on Social Security and defense, the percentage of the total that goes [toward] infrastructure would be higher,” pointed out Puentes.

Jan Mischke believed that the wide divide could also be attributed to the fact that while the US doesn’t spend enough on its infrastructure, China also spends entirely too much:

“China has actually invested much more than needed, and the US, much less than needed,” he explained. “Despite this overinvestment, China’s needs  for the future remain vast. The key opportunity for China is to deploy capital to more productive areas like research and innovation, and to raise efficiency and effectiveness of spending.”

China is home to the world’s first maglev train, a public transportation vehicle that uses magnetic levitation instead of wheels for a friction-less speed unattainable by wheeled alternatives. The maglev train’s top speed is 267 miles per hour and, astonishingly, has been running since 2004.

How Volvo Plans to Make its Cars “Deathproof”

In 2007, Volvo announced its lofty goal of creating vehicles that could avoid all circumstances that would cause serious injuries to its passengers. Since that announcement, it has been working hard to make good on what sounds in our era like an impossible promise.

For example, the Swedish-based auto manufacturer is readying itself for the release of a fleet of 100 driverless cars in China’s city streets. According to Volvo, the challenege constitutes its “most advanced autonomous driving experiment.”

s90And the challenge is significant not only in terms of Volvo’s modest advancements in driverless technology; the release stands out in autonomous vehicle history in that no other car company has attempted to test this many self-driving cars simultaneously on real city streets. Although many different car manufacturers have been competitive in the race towards vehicle autonomy, Volvo is unique in this way. Volvo even raises the stakes one level further in that it will allow everyday users to ride in the vehicles as they are being tested.

Volvo recently announced that it is seeking out Chinese citizens to participate in the trials conducted on its fully autonomous XC90 model, which will take place on fully public roads.

That said, these tests may not occur as soon as Volvo is suggesting. In fact, according to Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s senior technical leader for safety and driver support technologies, the exact date of the trial has yet to be determined. The only clue as to the approximate time of tests lies in the fact that the trials in China fall under the larger umbrella of Volvo’s DriveMe program, which will also test 100 driverless Volvo models in Gothenburg, Sweden starting in 2017.

“It’s important we work with ordinary customers, real people,” stated Coelingh. “It’s not enough to just have test engineers driving cars around on a track- we want to see how people use a self driving car, do they feel comfortable, do they feel safe.”

Regarding the 2020 initiative, Coelingh stated that “no one should be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo vehicle” four years in the future.

According to Coelingh, the DriveMe challenge is an example of Volvo’s interest in taking a step towards “a truly automated car where the driver can do something else.”

beijingVolvo has been testing semi-autonomous features for its more current vehicles as well. The latest Volvo S90 comes with Pilot Assist, which allows the vehicle to navigate autonomously at speeds up to 80 miles per hour.

Volvo plans to test its cars exclusively on roads they’ve chosen and mapped out in advance. Volunteers will only be eligible to lease a car and take part in the testing if their regular commute lies on those particular roads.

Unlike Google’s latest smart cars, the XC90 will come equipped with the same old-fashioned steering wheel. Test drivers will navigate the car themselves when on unmapped roads and be asked to give up control of the vehicle upon entering a mapped road.

Coelingh stated that one of the most important aspects of testing an autonomous car was forcing it through trial periods in different countries:

“If you want to have self-driving cars available all around the world, we will have to understand the exceptional situations from around the world,” he explained. “If a self-driving car works well in Gothenburg that doesn’t mean you can safely drive the car in Beijing or in London.”

General Motors Spends $1 Billion on Startup

General Motors recently announced its acquisition of an extremely small startup (composed of around 40 people) called Cruise Automation. It has stated that it’s interested in Cruise’s talent, but there may be more to it than GM’s explanation.

San Francisco start-up Cruise Technologies seemed like exactly the type of innovative group that any major automotive manufacturer might find valuable. GM in particular had been making investments and acquiring start-ups for years in an effort to find and incorporate new technical talent and new technologies that might bring the older company into the innovative wave of the 21st century.

cruise technologyGM has actually shown a lot of development in the past few decades; the company that developed the Hummer also created the Chevy Volt and Bolt series, and its 2016 Bolt is on track to hit the market later this year, beating Tesla to create an affordable electric car that costs somewhere around $30,000 and can travel over 200 miles on a single charge.

Reports have shown that GM actually paid something to the tune of $1 billion for the company. Although GM’s statement didn’t directly disclose the price of the acquisition, it hinted that its major motivation for the purchase was an attempt to bring Cruise’s engineering staff into the GM research and development team. That said, even in the Silicon Valley a price of $25 million per employee is a pretty insane rate.

So what is it that Cruise has that GM wants to desperately? According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the deal started out as a strategic investment as opposed to a full acquisition.

This information comes from Nabeel Hyatt, a Spark Capital partner that led Cruise’s Series A funding round in 2015. Apparently after seeing Cruise’s latest technology, GM moved to acquire the company all out.

GM also recently made a $500 million investment in the ride-sharing firm Lyft, a major competitor of Uber. Now the two companies are cooperating in an effort to create a framework for future automated ride-sharing services that will use autonomous vehicles. This sort of relationship with cars is said to be the future of consumers and transportation.

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle. Front ¾ in city scape. Bolt EV Concept builds upon Chevy’s experience gained from both the Volt and Spark EV to make an affordable, long-range all-electric vehicle to market. The Bolt EV is designed to meet the daily driving needs of Chevrolet customers around the globe with more than 200 miles of range and a price tag around $30,000.

Some analysts believe that GM’s acquisition may imply that Cruise had a crucial piece of the puzzle in terms of solving the many problems that occur when people attempt to create self-driving cars. Cruise’s product is called the “RP-1” system and can apparently be retrofitted to certain Audi models in order to make them capable of limited autonomous driving capabilities. The technology is seen as roughly comparable to Tesla’s “Autopilot” system, allowing for hands-free driving on highways despite the total lack of legislation concerning the topic.

GM has been researching self-driving technology for years and is expected to release a limited version of a similar system, called Super Cruise, later this year as a feature on the Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan.

Unfortunately, GM recently stated this January that the system’s introduction might actually debut in 2017. It claimed it wanted to add additional functionality and work out some potential imperfections and bugs in the system it had currently.

4 Car Hacks You Need to Know

If you own a car and commute to work, chances are you’re going to spend about 1/10 of your waking hours sitting in your cabin. That means it’s worth it (by a letter grade!) to make that experience as meaningful as possible. Here’s a list of hacks that will help you turn your car time into you-time.

car cushions ergonomic1. Get comfortable.

It may seem silly or petty, but adding just a few accessories to your car can make all the difference. Ergonomic seat cushions, for example, can be the difference between improving your posture between appointments and realizing you now need to somehow find the time and energy to fix your years-in-the-making back issues.

Having useful and inexpensive accessories like a phone mount can also make your life a little less stressful; use GPS without taking your eyes off the road, or speak clearly into a well-positioned speaker phone. It’s worth the short set-up time.

Finally, accessorize based on who you are and what you legitimately like. If you want some silly pink shag seat cushions, just go for it. Want a sun-blocking windshield cover that makes the inside of your car look like the inside of the millennium falcon? Just do it! These are the kind of splurges that make you and your friends smile for years on end.

chrome rims2. Install what you want and what you need.

From a bike rack to chrome rims, it’s worth your while to finally get around to adding what you want and need to your car so that it easily functions within whatever parameters will make you have the highest quality of life. Love camping? Put a trailer hitch on your car so that you can tow whatever you need, whenever you need it. Want to sleep and party in your van? Put up those curtain rods and curtains with pride. You should always feel like your car is an extension of yourself, so adjust its appearance and functionality with that in mind.

3. Make it safe.

Your car will be with you 1/10 of your waking hours, which means when something serious and life-threatening happens, there’s a 1 in 10 chance you’ll be in your car at the time. Considering how prevalent car-related injuries are in the United States, Americans probably have a higher chance of being in their cars during serious moments.

All the more reason to keep a first aid kit and some emergency supplies in your car. Make sure you have flares (preferably LED flares), flash lights, water bottles, granola bars, and maybe even a satellite phone in the back of your car in case something really serious happens to you or in front of you.

4. Keep it organized.

There are so many ways to do this, and they all feel good once incorporated into a larger system of car organization and control. There are seatback hanging pockets that can keep everything from snacks to road maps to cell phones in their hanging hulls, plus trunk organizers equipped with built in coolers and lockable compartments. They’re all good, so take your pick!

How Do Car Engines Convert Liquid Fuel into Movement?

We take the process for granted, but it’s really an elegant system that people dedicate their lives to revising to better suit our modern times. Although the gas to miles traveled formula may soon be obsolete (we have to stop relying on oil at some point!), why not look into exactly how it works?

liquid fuelCars are energy converters, meaning they release the energy locked in a fuel like gasoline, diesel, baby diapers (google it!), and a variety of other substances. They then take this released energy and convert it into mechanical energy in moving wheels and gears. When the wheels begin to spin and the car starts to move, the mechanical energy becomes kinetic energy because we’re off an moving.

So how is the power harvested from the petroleum? Also called crude oil, petroleum is a thick, black energy-rich liquid that can be pumped out from underneath the ground to create diesel, gasoline, kerosene, and all kinds of petrochemicals that are used to make paints, plastics, stuff like that.

Petroleum floors are energy-rich because they’re full of hydrocarbons, which are molecules that consist mostly of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons are handy because their energy is easily released as heat by burning them (as a chemical process, this is called combustion). Car engines burn fuel in closed containers, allowing them to make the most efficient use of the released heat as possible.

Car engines have a lot of different components. Their fuel burns inside the cylinders (there are two to twelve cylinders in cars, and generally the more they have the more powerful [and expensive] they are). At one end those cylinders open and close like bicycle pumps and in that area are the very tight-fitting pistons, which are like little plungers that slide up and down inside them.

valves and stuffAt the top of each cylinder there are valves, which are just gates that can let stuff in or out and be opened or closed really fast. The inlet valve is responsible for allowing fuel and air to enter the cylinder from a carburetor or electronic-fuel injector. The outlet valve opens so that exhaust gases can be released.

Also at the top of the cylinder is an electrically controlled spark plug that makes a spark to set fire to the fuel in the first place. At the bottom of the cylinder, the piston is attached to a constantly turning axle called a crankshaft. That crankshaft powers the car’s gearbox which, in turn, powers the wheels.

…But how does a car generate power? The process can be explained in four basic steps.

Intake: The piston gets pulled down inside the cylinder by the crankshaft, which is just a spinning wheel that the piston is attached to at one end. The inlet valve opens, letting fuel and air into the cylinder.

Compression: The crankshift continued on its rotation and the piston moves upward, closing the inlet valve and creating pressure inside the cylinder by compressing the amount of space in there. When the piston reaches the very top of the cylinder, the spark plug fires.

How Do Car Engines Convert Liquid Fuel into Movement?

We take the process for granted, but it’s really an elegant system that people dedicate their lives to revising to better suit our modern times. Although the gas to miles traveled formula may soon be obsolete (we have to stop relying on oil at some point!), why not look into exactly how it works?

Cars are energy converters, meaning they release the energy locked in a fuel like gasoline, diesel, baby diapers (google it!), and a variety of other substances. They then take this released energy and convert it into mechanical energy in moving wheels and gears. When the wheels begin to spin and the car starts to move, the mechanical energy becomes kinetic energy because we’re off an moving.

So how is the power harvested from the petroleum? Also called crude oil, petroleum is a thick, black energy-rich liquid that can be pumped out from underneath the ground to create diesel, gasoline, kerosene, and all kinds of petrochemicals that are used to make paints, plastics, stuff like that.

Petroleum floors are energy-rich because they’re full of hydrocarbons, which are molecules that consist mostly of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons are handy because their energy is easily released as heat by burning them (as a chemical process, this is called combustion). Car engines burn fuel in closed containers, allowing them to make the most efficient use of the released heat as possible.

Car engines have a lot of different components. Their fuel burns inside the cylinders (there are two to twelve cylinders in cars, and generally the more they have the more powerful [and expensive] they are). At one end those cylinders open and close like bicycle pumps and in that area are the very tight-fitting pistons, which are like little plungers that slide up and down inside them.

At the top of each cylinder there are valves, which are just gates that can let stuff in or out and be opened or closed really fast. The inlet valve is responsible for allowing fuel and air to enter the cylinder from a carburetor or electronic-fuel injector. The outlet valve opens so that exhaust gases can be released.

Also at the top of the cylinder is an electrically controlled spark plug that makes a spark to set fire to the fuel in the first place. At the bottom of the cylinder, the piston is attached to a constantly turning axle called a crankshaft. That crankshaft powers the car’s gearbox which, in turn, powers the wheels.

…But how does a car generate power? The process can be explained in four basic steps.

Intake: The piston gets pulled down inside the cylinder by the crankshaft, which is just a spinning wheel that the piston is attached to at one end. The inlet valve opens, letting fuel and air into the cylinder.

Compression: The crankshift continued on its rotation and the piston moves upward, closing the inlet valve and creating pressure inside the cylinder by compressing the amount of space in there. When the piston reaches the very top of the cylinder, the spark plug fires.

Power: The spark ignites the pressurized fuel-air mixture inside the cylinder, causing a tiny explosion. The fuel burns immediately, creating hot gas that pushes the piston back down with its force. This is the energy released by the fuel now powering the piston-crankshaft attachment.

Exhaust: The outlet valve opens as the crankshaft continues to turn, its rotation now briefly powered by the explosion. The piston is forced back up into the cylinder, forcing out the exhaust gases produced when the fuel was burned.

Repeat and you’re on the road, headed wherever!

Porsche Meets VR

“Through technology, we’re able to do things we didn’t think possible five years ago,” explained Scott Baker, Porsche’s Manager of Marketing Communications. “For example, we are now able to illustrate the physical thrill that a driver feels when behind the wheel of a Porsche.”

Car lovers on a budget can experience the thrill of driving the Porsche 911 Targa on a closed circuit via Reel FX’s recent release of the Porsche Virtual Reality Experience. You may think virtual reality is about as publically accessible as a ride in a Porsche for the penny-pinching consumer… and due to the development of Google Cardboard, you’re absolutely right.

See what I did there?google cb

Ok, so most people don’t have the opportunity to ride in an actual Porsche. But the VR experience (free) offered by Google Cardboard (free to New York Times subscribers, $17 for the rest) is pretty cool. The Reel FX team bolted six HD cameras to the undercarriage of a subject 911 and pointed them towards a similar direction (but not at the exact same focal point) to create enough footage to piece together a VR experience for viewers. The sound quality is fit to please any audiophile. There is audio footage of the engine sounding through the exhaust system, the throttle, the intake tract and the intake plenum. Listeners can hear the mechanical hammering of valvetrain tappets from the valve covers. There are even audio samples of the transmission vibrating the cabin. Finally, there’s the sound of the wind. The video and auto footage combine to create an illusion that is both convincing and realistic.

“The Porsche Virtual Reality Experience is another opportunity to immerse people in the world of Porsche in a unique, engaging way,” Baker continued. “It makes the Porsche brand more relatable to a broader group of people and expresses what it’s like to experience Porsche without having to feel huge lateral forces or a hard stand start launch from 0 to 60 mph.”

VR users can also travel inside the Porsche’s working engine to see a slow-motion version of its many functions. The program’s CG internal combustion, with all of its many details (the viewer travels past inlet runners, valves, injectors spraying atomized fuel, exploding spark plugs, etc) is said to be both amazing and overwhelming.porsche driving

The PVRE has been informed by research performed at Porsche’s Human Performance Center at its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Dozens of tests were done on people’s mental and physical reactions to high-performance driving stimuli, yielding results that allowed for Porsche to craft the exact experience the company had in mind for prospective viewers.

This most recent development in the Porsche marketing campaign demonstrates Porsche’s aggressive moves towards being seen as both a car and a tech company. Now that corporations like Google and Tesla have learned to straddle the line between the two enormous industries, other high-end automotive manufacturers understand the financial incentive of following their lead.

Keep on the look-out for a self-driving Porsche?

Improving Your Car’s Appearance on a Budget

If you just won the lottery or run a multimillion dollar company chances are you’re probably pretty satisfied with how that brand new Ferrari looks when it rolls of the lot. Alternatively, if you’re like the rest of us driving a normal vehicle, chances are you have at least considered improving the appearance of your car.

car1Sure, putting a new turbocharger, cold air intake and exhaust system may make it go faster and sound cooler, but it’s not exactly something someone on a budget can consider. Luckily, there are many things you can do to improve your car’s appearance from tinting your windows, upgrading your speakers or outfitting your vehicle with other car accessories.

Tints

Have you ever seen the exact same car as you, in the exact same color only to thing it looks better, but can’t pinpoint why? Chances are, their windows are tinted. Tinting your vehicle’s windows is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve the appearance of your vehicle. Not only will they help your car look cooler, they will help to fend off sunlight and give you some extra privacy.

Depending on where you live, getting tints installed can range between $50 – 150 dollars. However, it’s important to note that while these shops will go as dark as you want, certain laws prohibit tints past a certain darkness. Luckily, any shop that that provides window tinting will undoubtedly know exactly what your local laws are.

Sound System

No matter how bad a car looks, if it works and sounds great it will be fun to drive. Many new vehicles come pre equipped with great stereo systems that need no modifications. However, if you have an older vehicle with audio equipment that sounds awful (or no audio equipment at all), perhaps it’s time for an upgrade. There are many different things you can do in this sector and what you do dictates the cost. Simply updating your interior speakers can cost as low as $50. Upgrading your head unit to something a bit more functional can also cost around $50 – $100 or cheaper if you look to install it yourself.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to outfit your car with a touchscreen head unit and 3 12-inch subwoofers, you’re going to be looking at well over $1,000.

car2Interior

Now that you’ve got your windows tinted and your system sounding great, it’s time to look at the interior of your vehicle. There are many things you can do with the interior of your vehicle that range from cheap to extremely expensive. On the cheaper side you can get seat covers, a new shifter knob or even a steering wheel cover. If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, you can have your dashboard painted or even new seats installed. Your best bet here is to head over to your local auto parts store and browse the car accessories isle. We could write a whole book on the different things you can find but finding something that’s right for you is what’s of importance.