Friday, February 05, 2021

5 engines that would be interesting to swap into a RWD-converted Subaru Impreza

Even though much of Subaru's marketing nowadays has been associated with the boxer/flat engine and the all-wheel drive, its mechanics are not the easiest to struggle with. Even considering how the AWD may be a good sales point for the off-road themed XV/Crosstrek trim, which is the only available with the hatchback bodystyle in my country nowadays, it not being usually taken to serious off-roading may render such feature effectively useless for the average Joe. And honestly, due to the longitudinal engine position which is a must for a boxer, it may sound tempting to replace it with something else while also converting to rear-wheel drive only. I would at least take a look at 5 engines if I were going to do such:

1 - Cummins ISF2.8/R2.8: as it caters to Asian utility vehicles with engine bays quite cramped, even though a rear-wheel drive setup would also be required to ease the task of overcoming clearence issues in a Subaru, the Cummins ISF2.8 or its aftermarket-oriented R2.8 derivative available in the United States and Canada would be among my possible choices. I am quite partial to Diesels, and since the R2.8 is meant as an option to the gasoline-powered ubiquitous small-block V8 engines more frequently swapped into nearly everything, it seems quite down-to-earth compared to other engines which would require major structural changes to allow a clean-looking installation;

2 - Chevrolet small-block V8: an engine that nearly everyone loves. Either some first-generation one or the latest designs with some newer tech incorporated, the relatively compact packaging makes it a cost-effective option for high output;

3 - Nissan TB48DE: this straight-six masterpiece, which currently has a limited availability along the Y61 Nissan Patrol, has a strong aftermarket scene in the Middle East. Even though it usually has a quite conservative tune, turbocharging and other tuning allow it to exceed 1000hp with some reliability;

4 - Toyota 1GR-FE: not exactly a favorite of mine, but it also has some aftermarket support overseas which is also interesting when it comes to a performance enhancement. Toyota being a stakeholder on Fuji Heavy Industries also makes it sound more reasonable at all;

5 - Chrysler Hemi Hellcat: one of the most exciting engines in recent times, sure the Hellcat would be a good option too.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Why going too sophisticated for a light-duty turbodiesel engine while a medium-duty follows a seemingly simpler approach?

The availability of a 3.0L straight-6 turbodiesel with a chain-driven DOHC valvetrain in the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, holding the distiction of being the sole powerplant available officially in some export markets such as Paraguay, has led to questions such as why not going bigger in displacement in order to keep a simpler (and presumably cheaper-to-manufacture) configuration. The usual marketing approach, highlighting features such as towing capacity, may eventually justify some interest on technical features of engines fitted to medium-duty trucks such as the Brazilian Volkswagen Constellation 23-230 with its 4-cylinder 4.6L MAN D0834 engine which often has to deal with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than the gross combined weight of a Silverado coupled to a trailer at its maximum tow rating. There are other aspects to take into account, such as the amount of cylinders being often pointed out as a premium feature even in a lower-displacement engine, and how customers of different segments may expect the power and torque curves to adjust to their effective needs.

While the Duramax LM2 fitted to the Silverado is rated at 277hp at 3750 RPM and 624Nm from 1500 to 3000 RPM, there are conflicting claims for the power and torque figures of the MAN D0834 LOH63, so it may be tempting to consider the LOH64 spec which is compliant to a stricter emissions regulation and has pretty much unchanged ratings even though the peak RPM bands presented are less conflicting with 220hp at 2300 RPM and 850Nm from 1300 to 1800 RPM. It's relevant to notice the magnitude of the differences between peak power and torque RPM which are roughly 63% greater for the Silverado, even though the displacement of the MAN engine is around 53% bigger. Considering the torque output of the Duramax is roughly 73.4% of what is claimed for the D08 in the trim fitted to the Volkswagen, if a 1.63:1 intermediate gear could be fitted at the flywheel of the smaller engine as an attempt to match a similar RPM output the multiplied torque would be around 19% higher at 1016Nm, which sounds quite impressive as the weight difference from the 212kg of the LM2 which is somewhat featherweight when it comes to a turbodiesel to the 510 or 530kg for the D08 which renders it 140 to 150% heavier.

While both engine configurations have their own tradeoffs, how the buying patterns on each segment is more or less willing to accept such issues also plays an important role at the strategy of manufacturers, and then it's understandable that a Silverado gets an aluminium block and chain-driven overhead cams in contrast to the vermicular graphite-iron alloy resorted by MAN which relies on a single gear-driven cam-in-block and overhead valves. It's worth to remind a light-duty truck is weight-sensitive not only due to strictly technical concerns, but also regulatory aspects such as the maximum GVWR allowed for holders of a car driving license and a minimum payload which could be required in order to register a Diesel-powered vehicle in countries such as Brazil unless it's either off-road capable or a minibus. In the end, even though a greater sophistication might seem excessive at a first glance, it's justifiable under some not-so-specific circumstances and actually crucial on more specific ones, and to a lesser extent it may even sound quite tempting to take one step further into the downsizing...

Saturday, January 16, 2021

A personal reflection about the end of Ford car manufacturing in Brazil

Earlier this week, Ford has announced it was phasing out its 3 manufacturing units still active in Brazil, to have its entire range comprising of imported models and allign itself with the truck-oriented business it's already implementing on a global basis. Some ignorants who dislike President Jair Bolsonaro are blaming him for a strategic decision that only Ford had something to do, unlike what happened to GM in Venezuela where its assets were seized by Nicolás Maduro's narco-dictatorship in 2017. It's also worth to notice Ford did not seem to really care about the Brazilian market, where it insisted in a strategy that proven itself not so suitable to the local needs, and its business model on a global basis still seems to revolve around the old body-on-frame layout which is roughly unchanged for a long time.

Ford keeping its manufacturing operations in Argentina, where nowadays the Ranger is the only model made locally, is also deeply rooted on the same mindset of the days when the Model T was Ford's only product including the overseas assembly plants. Sure a lot of technical features of the vehicles and the manufacturing methods evolved in a timeframe of more than 100 years, but it's impossible to deny the conceptual similarities between a relatively modern truck and one of the least expensive cars from the Brass Era. Even though some technical revolutions happened in the meantime when it comes to brakes, suspensions, transmissions and steering gear, there is no way to overlook the longitudinally-mounted engine driving the rear wheels through a leaf-sprung solid axle (which remains the usual drive even on 4-wheel drive versions with independent front suspension) in a body-on-frame as a reminiscence of the old times.

The closure of the São Bernardo do Campo plant in 2019, where the Cargo trucks and regional variants of the chassis-cab Super Duty used to be made, was actually more surprising, as both ranges stilll relied on the jalopy-ish layout which Ford seems to remain more comfortable to work around. Among claims of a shrinking market share due to competition and the cost to upgrade from Euro-5 to Euro-6, which is the dumbest excuse since Brazilian-made Ford trucks had been fitted only with Cummins engines since late-2005, it's also relevant to notice Turkish-made versions of the Ford Cargo are (re)making their way into Western Europe which is a highly competitive market. The demand for logistic services after the 2020 outbreak of the Chinese Covid-19 Coronavirus increased the e-commerce in Brazil also means the timing for the phaseout on local truck manufacturing was a highly regrettable move.

The reliance on the 3rd-generation Ka and 2nd-generation EcoSport which were made in the Camaçari plant located in the metropolitan area of Salvador de Bahia for larger sales volumes, with the Ka being more appealing to the fleet market than for retail customers while the EcoSport was losing much of its market share because of the increased competition, apparently was not a valid excuse for the closure of the Camaçari plant where Ford had introduced 3-cylinder 1.0L and 1.5L engines manufacture rendering much of the output of the Taubaté powertrain-oriented plant quite redundant. Both models relying on an obsolete platform, plus the Ka being made only in Brazil and India having been phased out in Europe in 2019 due to poor sales, were pointed out as a reason for the phaseout of Brazilian production which had not been as competitive on export markets as their Indian counterparts. However, it's worth to remind a tax break which has led to the Camaçari plant opening in 2000 has expired on late-2020, so Ford was looking for a government handout in order to keep operating at a claimed loss in Bahia, even though the EcoSport still seemed to be in line with a truck and SUV-oriented business model.

Ford has also planned to close the Troller factory, a small-scale and off-road oriented plant located in Horizonte, a city in the metropolitan region of Fortaleza in the Ceará state, which it had bought in 2007 looking for a tax break for companies with operations in the Brazilian Northeast (Nordeste as we say in Brazil). From what used to be described as a fiberglass copy of some previous generation of the Jeep Wrangler to the 2nd generation riding on a shortened version of the 2012 Ranger chassis released in 2014, the T4 has been the most known Troller and through most of its production run the only actual Troller model. Considering its history as an independent company from '95 to 2007 and the cult-following among the 4WD enthusiasts in Brazil, the Troller division seems to be quite an easy asset for Ford to sell before its closure scheduled to late-2021, even though it seems more likely for Ford to be actually willing to shutdown this operation instead of turning it into an eventual competitor in the SUV market.

Even though the focus (no pun intended) on SUVs has led Ford to outsource its new Territory entirely to its Chinese partner JMC, going as far as resorting to a copy of the ancient Mitsubishi 4G15 engine with few changes such as turbocharging, its shutdown on local manufacturing in Brazil to concentrate on imports while the Argentinian operation keeps going despite political unrest diminishes considerably the trust of Brazilian customers on Ford. Even though such attempt to increase the profitability per unit instead of volume may seem easy at a first glance, a brand which had never been regarded as a specialty devoted to high-end models is likely to face a hard time trying to reposition it as somewhat premium. So, despite being quite predictable due to an inefficient business model on a worldwide basis, the end of manufacturing operations in the largest country of South America is unlikely to benefit Ford at all.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Opel Corsa B, the unsung hero

Even though it's now seem as outdated even in the regions where it soldiered on for longer than its first run from '93 to '00 in Western Europe, the Opel Corsa B was one of the greatest GM cars of the '90s in a worldwide basis. Despite its absence in the United States and Canada where it was simpler to keep the strategy of selling a rebadged Suzuki within its size class, the first vehicle to challenge the Volkswagen Beetle in the Mexican market as a serious contender was the Opel Corsa B, rebadged there as Chevrolet Chevy and initially sourced from Spain before CKD assembly from Brazilian parts and ultimately made with an increased local content. Nobody will ever know exactly what prevented the Corsa to become an option for American customers too, but most likely the cost of certification while the rebadged Suzukis were already there.

A very dependable model, even though its appearance could suggest otherwise, the Opel Corsa B was also rebadged as a Chevrolet in South America where it used to be made in Brazil and Argentina, with CKD kits having been supplied from Brazil even in RHD format to South Africa where it retained the Opel branding while being fitted with more rugged engines than its European counterparts and received the Brazilian facelift from '00 to '09. Simple mechanics made it very dumbproof, even though electronic fuel injection had been a first-in-class in some markets such as Brazil where the Chevrolet Corsa was introduced in '94. The relatively modern European styling matched to some degree of ruggedness which remains as a desirable feature in Latin America, Africa and Middle East rendered the Corsa B closer to a Beetle replacement than much of Volkswagen's offering.

A sedan version had even been developed in Brazil catering to developing markets where this bodystyle is often seen as preferable over the hatchbacks which were more prevalent in Europe. To a certain point, the availability of a sedan/saloon seriously impacted the market share for the 4-door hatchback, while the 2-door hatchback remained quite competitive in a more budget-oriented approach which helped it to become a contender to the Volkswagen Beetle in Mexico. This very same bodystyle had been also made in China and assembled from CKD kits in India and South Africa.

With fewer changes and a budget-oriented approach, the sedan has soldiered on in South America until 2016, already rebadged as Chevrolet Classic and fitted only with a flexfuel 1.0L engine according to the Brazilian "people's car" program, while Argentina had a 1.4L gasoline-only engine. Still easy to spot on most Latin American medium and big cities, the Opel Corsa B is certainly an unsung hero from those times when GM was greater than any other automaker on earth. Even though the original Opel design may lead a few stubborn rednecks to not consider it Chevrolet-ish enough, the Corsa B was certainly among the greatest responses to both developed and developing markets and their needs.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Peruvian-style tuk-tuk converted into a panel van

Even though passenger transport with tuk-tuks is still quite a taboo in my homeland Brazil, they've been reasonably sought after by entrepreneurs who need an affordable option for short-distance hauling and a small payload in the urban environment where low speed is not a problem at all. While the Piaggio Ape and its many copies usually sourced from India and China are a rare sight in Brazil, it's not so unusual to spot makeshift tricycles converted from small-displacement motorcycles and a small amount of those Chinese purpose-built tricycles with a fully-exposed cockpit or a simple front fairing and roof without a side enclosure. The location of the engine and fuel tank inside the rider's cabin requires it to be open to the environment, and it also applies to the Peruvian passenger-transport models even though they have a canvas enclosure around the rear seat. In this one converted into a panel van, an all-metal cargo box is installed on the rear section, with an all-metal roof also extending over the rider's area which was also fitted with metal half-doors. Unlike other tricycle types which often have both rear wheels driven, and often resort to a shaft-drive the Peruvian-style ones have only the left rear wheel which is chain-driven just like the sole rear wheel of an average motorcycle such as the 125cc and 150cc ones usually resorted as a parts donor for the assembly of tuk-tuks in Peru.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

In defense of Ford's CHT engine?

Ford failed in Brazil a lot of times due to the lack of a long-term planning for its engines range to meet the local market conditions, and the Escort Mk.3 which was the first one introduced officially to Brazil had to rely on the Renault-designed Cléon-Fonte engines to which it had access after merging with the Brazilian branch of Willys-Overland with whom Régie Nationale des Usines Renault had a partnership at the time. Even though that was even better than Ford's own Kent engine fitted to some entry-level trims of the European Escort by then, it ended up being one of the most underrated engines in Brazil as competition from Chevrolet and Volkswagen evolved to the OHC layout. Even though Volkswagen's EA-827 engine series mostly known in Brazil as "AP" and more frequently referred to as "Motor Audi" in Argentina and Uruguay is often highlighted as the holy grail for reliability covering displacements between 1.6L and 2.0L while also being reasonably affordable when it comes to tuning, the good old CHT which was better known in the 1.6L displacement range even though 1.3L and later even a 1.0L variant had been available had even better reliability despite its more conservative power and torque figures often blamed on the chain-driven OHV valvetrain receiving much criticism.

It's not unusual to claim the CHT engine is the one to blame for the Escort XR-3 not having been taken so seriously as a sports car in Brazil until the AutoLatina joint-venture with Volkswagen provided Ford with the AP engine, yet the unsuitability to expand the CHT over 1.6L was much more of a real issue. Ford really got a hard hit from the '73 oil crisis in Brazil due to bad planning, including the usage of the F-Head Willys Hurricane engine in Brazilian versions of the Maverick instead of the Thriftpower Six which was available in Argentina powering the Falcon and the F-100 which used to rely only on the V8 engines in Brazil until the Lima OHC became available in Brazil only in the 2.3L displacement and also resorting to natural aspiration and carburettor while export-bound variants could be had with EFI and even turbocharging. In trouble, the Brazilian branch was saved by a combination of engine exports to the United States, the creation of the F-1000 which was basically a higher-GVWR F-100 with a Diesel engine available (while the Argentinian-sourced Thriftpower Six was not so sought after), and naturally the Escort to which the CHT engine already on the parts bin was a reasonable option not requiring the expenses of a tooling update to manufacture the CVH engine fitted to its European and American counterparts.

A cheap engine to manufacture, and nearly indestructible while also quite easy to overhaul due to its wet-sleeve layout, the Renault Cléon-Fonte on which the CHT is based was successfully tuned to high power and torque ratings in Europe, being widely used for rallying and other demanding motorsports even behind the Iron Curtain where some derivatives were made by Dacia in Romania before it merged with Renault. Even though it's often pointed out as "inferior" and "outdated", mostly due to the lack of an aftermarket support so focused on performance enhancements, the CHT engine was better than what it's often regarded in Brazil, with its low-end torque still being appreciated despite featuring a lower specific power within the 1.6L displacement range compared to what Volkswagen and Chevrolet had to offer in Brazil during the '80s. Had it not fell so out of favor between '86 and '96 when AutoLatina was in effect, sure the CHT could've proven its worth, and eventually could fare better than the Kent-based Endura-E supplied from Spain from '96 to 2000 in 1.0L and 1.3L variants along the 1.4L Zetec-SE once the Fiesta started being made in Brazil, and then presumably with the fitment of a sequential EFI and other fewer improvements it would not surprise me the CHT could save Ford in Brazil again...

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Why could the concept of a single-clutch automated-manual transmission be still relevant?

There were times when a very same car could differ considerably from a region to another regarding the availability of automatic transmissions, even for models with a broader "World's car" appeal such as the Toyota Corolla. At its 9th generation (E120), it resorted to a narrower bodyshell for both the European and Japanese markets, even though the lower demand for automatic transmissions in Europe rendered it more suitable to make an automated-manual transmission available instead. As it retained the coupling through friction from a regular manual instead of resorting to a hydraulic torque converted usually fitted to conventional automatics, gear changes are often more noticeable according to the driver's behavior, which might seem more annoying to a Japanese or American more used to a greater smoothness that a single-clutch automated-manual transmission is reportedly unable to provide.

While both the evolution of conventional automatics, CVTs and the arrival of the dual-clutch automated transmissions could sound like the end of the road for a single-clutch AMT, it retains a foothold on the commercial vehicles segment. Considering aspects such as purchasing price, maintenance schedule and concerns related to the impact of an automatic transmission on both fuel consumption and payload, the simpler layout of an automated-manual seems more appealing to fleet managers and owner-operators in countries such as Brazil where the commercial vehicles market is highly conservative. Even though the rougher operation and usage of a conventional clutch which still needs replacements through the useful operating life of a truck such as the Volkswagen Constellation or a bus such as the Volkswagen 17.230 OD may sound disadvantageous compared to an automatic transmission, maintenance procedures more similar to what most commercial operators are comfortable with is likely to render them more favorable to a single-clutch automated-manual transmission.
It's also worth to remind some claims of longer clutch life due to clutchless gear changes which happen more frequently, and a lower fuel consumption because of the automatic selection of the more suitable gear according to traffic and terrain conditions, at a cost premium not as high as for an automatic and a lower increase to the curb weight of the vehicle. The increased precision of the newer electronic engine management systems has also led to the viability of a more accurated and better integrated transmission control, preventing driver errors such as over-revving which is detrimental to the fuel consumption. It's worth to remind the viability to expand the concept of single-clutch automated-manual transmissions to nearly any vehicle with a modern engine electronic management system, rendering it an effective way to increase comfort, durability and fuel-efficiency even for vehicles which were never available with an automatic transmission, to the point that even modern versions of the classic Lada Niva with sequential port-injection and distributorless ignition could benefit from this feature.

Besides the lower cost comparing a single-clutch automated-manual transmission to both an automatic or a dual-clutch transmission, rendering it a good option for emerging markets where the economics of scale can be favored by sharing most components with the regular manual transmissions on cars such as the Volkswagen Fox, it's also noticeable the failures on single-clutch AMTs is usually more related to electro-hydraulic actuators than to the internals of the gearbox or the clutch pack, while for dual-clutch transmissions it's not unusual to have clutch pack failures which may damage the entire transmission. A simpler approach may not provide all the advantages from its more sophisticated counterparts, such as the claimed seamless and faster shift which rendered DCTs widely praised, but a lower overall cost is worth to consider. So, even though it might not be always understood by the average Joe, the concept of a single-clutch automated-manual transmission is still relevant.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Dettachable refrigerated module for Brazilian car-based trucklets

Mostly due to size and purchase price concerns, car-based trucklets such as the previous-generation Fiat Strada are taken seriously as a work vehicle in Brazil. The agility of a small vehicle on the heavy urban traffic benefits the operation with small loads, however the monocoque body becomes troublesome to fit special load compartments which would handle more efficiently either a slightly larger amount of the refrigerated items or allow a better integration to the stock vehicle. Resale value is also often taken as a priority, and dealing with the removal of a specialized truck body to fit another more appealing to the average Joe is as much as a matter of concern as the cost of the refrigeration equipment. A detachable refrigerated module which fits inside the pick-up box, eventually being titled as an "interchangeable body", makes it easier to address with the needs and preferences of many commercial operators who require a more compact vehicle and are not willing to compromise much of its original features once the time comes for resale.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Volare 4X4 - Brazilian 4WD minibus

Brazilian countryside can be rough, and the same may often apply to the outskirts of big cities or other operating scenarios that may require a more specialized approach for a job to get done. Initially catering to the school bus segment, Marcopolo's subsidiary Volare developed the Volare 4X4 in partnership with Agrale and benefitting from the 4-wheel drive experience Agrale had even before it started producing the Marruá utility vehicle series.
With a Cummins ISF3.8 engine and a 5-speed manual transmission, and a dual-range transfer case, the Volare 4X4 also found its way on segments other than rural school buses, also being possible to spot it on construction sites and other demanding off-road environments. The articulated rear bumper means it can have a rear overhang more similar to a normal 2-wheel drive model, while still allowing a greater departure angle while off-roading.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Possibly the last remaining International KB-1 from my hometown

Took these pictures in August 2011, and since then I had only seen it again a handful of times while passing in front of an apartment complex where it could be seen from the street at the carport.
Pictures don't show it, but it had a Ford steering wheel, which considering how hard it might be to find spare parts for its stock Blue Diamond engine might suggest a repowering with either a Ford 221 "Falcon Six" or some MWM Diesel engine fitted to a Brazilian derivative of the F-Series, even though I have never seen it running in order to identify by the engine sound if it's a gasser or a Diesel.