Monday, May 13, 2024

Why would I still lurk about building a "glamping pod" from a Volkswagen Kombi bodyshell?

Among those vehicles which not only are easy to recognise, but also dearly beloved by so many people, sure the Volkswagen Kombi holds its fair share of distinction. Making a surprisingly good use of space in proportion to its exterior dimensions, despite the engine bay and wheel wells, it's no surprise much sought after by camping enthusiasts around the world who often resort to some sort of motorhome conversion. Despite the lack of interior height for most people to stand up inside, some folks even manage to install a functional (yet somewhat small) bathroom, rendering it a fairly reasonable alternative to blowing money at hotels. Sure it won't be a one-size-fits-all solution, but for temporary living quarters it's undeniably better than a camping tent...

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Would a more compact ambulance make any sense at all?

Ambulance fleets tend to vary substantially from one country to another, and it's usual for it to also happen within one country, due to circumstances such as a harsher off-road terrain condition eventually demanding the ruggedness of a 4WD body-on-frame truck or a narrow street with constantly heavy traffic making it easier to reach the emergency in a more compact van for instance. In-between all that, specific controles such as the United States historically favored full-size trucks to fulfill this role as the one-size-fits-all, which could eventually be OK in the middle of nowhere with little traffic and the need for as much medical supplies as possible inside the ambulance, or even some specific tools to remove a wounded driver from a wrecked car. Sure the perceived low cost difference of keeping a full-size truck as the default option to fit a modular ambulance body may sound too hard to overlook, not to mention now the compact and mid-size body-on-frame trucks usually resort to fully boxed frames, while a full-size can still be specified with the boxed section of the frame only around the engine bay and driver cab, with a large unboxed section of the frame rails rendering it easier to install specialty bodywork and requiring fewer redesigns across different generations of full-size trucks.

Maneuvering through congested city traffic is still quite a challenge for the ambulance drivers,  despite every other driver being demanded to make way for an ambulance on-duty with lights flashing and the siren blasting, so it might not be so dumb at all to eventually consider the suitability of some smaller truck models to be converted into ambulances in the United States, just like it's usually done elsewhere. An example which I remember is the usage of the Ford Ranger as a rural ambulance, in contrast to how vans in general tend to be more common in urban ambulance service or highway rescue, and it may eventually resemble the appearance of a (stereo)typical American ambulance with that modular box body, except for its smaller overall size which in fact had never become a compromise for its aptitude to the task. I would never expect American ambulance fleet managers to switch from automatic to manual transmissions, or to suddently being more favorable to a 4-cyl turbodiesel instead of a V6 or V8 regardless of fuel type, yet for some operators a more compact ambulance with improved maneuvering through either heavy traffic or a woodland dirt-bike trail could effectively mean the whole difference between life and death for someone...

Monday, April 15, 2024

Brazilian 2001 GMT400 GMC 3500HD, actually a rebadged C2500 with the shortbed more often fitted to a 1500

Brazil is far from being easy to understand at all, with its automotive market reflecting so many aspects of the country as a whole. As most of the industrial policies in Brazil tender to be focused on import replacement, and the automotive market had been further affected by severe restrictions to imports which nearly wiped them off Brazil from '76 to '90 for the average Joe, the buying pattern became somewhat more conservative than usual for certain vehicle classes, including full-size pick-up trucks to which evolutions took longer to arrive. And due to economics of scale, region-specific powertrains also had a foothold after imports were allowed once again. That was the case for the Mercosur derivative of the GMT400 generation of the Chevrolet and GMC full-size trucks and SUVs, much simpler than its counterparts made in countries other than Brazil and Argentina.
Available only as RWD because of the cost, and the fact that compact/mid-size trucks took over most of the market share in retail, a regional GMC counterpart to the Chevrolet Silverado also resorted to the regular cab and short bed, with the MWM Sprint 6.07T straight-6 turbodiesel and a 5-speed manual transmission. The regular cab was not much of a big deal for most of those who bought a Brazilian-made full-size truck, considering how aftermarket cab conversions used to be relatively popular until the early 2000s, yet the absence of options such as automatic transmission or 4-wheel drive tended to be covered by grey-imports instead. The usage of a short bed in a 3/4-ton, more associated with the half-tons elsewhere, still reflected not only the imports replacement approach, but also how 3/4-tons took over the market in order to address the minimum payload requirements for 2-wheel drive vehicles to be granted the usage of a Diesel engine since '76, even though the GMT400 was released in '88 for the United States and only arrived in Brazil officially in '97 despite a grey-import presence in the early '90s...
While the GMT400 for Brazil was sourced from Argentina between the '97 and 2000 model-years, in 2000 and 2001 production was transferred to Brazil, and only for the 2001 model-year a GMC model for the retail customer was available, with little success due to the prevalence of Chevrolet. The name 3500HD was meant to reflect a GVWR slightly above 3500kg, which required a commercial driver license in Brazil, yet the yearly tax is lower as it's titled as a truck instead of trucklet for bureaucratic purpose. And even though no half-ton GMT400 was officially available in Brazil at that time, so the economics of scale could still favor a longer bed, the frame being a carryover from the previous C/K generation instead of the same of its USDM equivalent dictated the shorter bed to retain the short wheelbase.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Why should've Volkswagen kept the air-cooled boxer engine for a longer time in Brazilian front-engined models at least as an option?

Volkswagen used to be the best-selling automaker in Brazil for some decades, with some models having been developed specifically for the regional market, such as a 2-door bodystyle in the 2nd generation of the Parati compact station-wagon, in a time when Brazilians were starting to become more favorable to 4-door cars in the mid-'90s despite a more conservative part of Volkswagen's local customer base still being more fond of the 2-door models. That was also a time when 1.0L-engined cars became prevalent due to a more favorable (or less unfavorable) taxation, which former president Itamar Franco amended to allow air-cooled engines up to 1.6L to be eligible for the same benefit which remains in effect for the water-cooled 1.0L engines. Much has changed regarding engine technology, and some approaches such as 4 valves per cylinder which failed in the '90s due to poor maintenance became more usual in recent years, but a more "dumbproof" engine such as the good old air-cooled boxer could've soldiered on a little more...
While the 1.0L engines were much more relevant in Brazil than in other regional Latin American export markets, from the 16-valve which was the only within its displacement bracket fitted to the Parati to the 8-valve which soldiered on for longer in the Gol, and export markets favored 1.4L through 1.6L engines much more, eventually the air-cooled boxer would still remain more relevant in Brazil had the lower tax bracket remained effective after '96 in that very same context of "People's car" which led to the rise of the 1.0L class to reach around 70% market share in the early 2000s in Brazil. What has led Volkswagen to give up on the boxer in late-2005 were the Euro-3 emission regulations, mostly concerning the noise, and a lower production volume rendered the investment to make a flexfuel version exclusive to Brazil unjustifiable, as that engine had already been phased out in Mexico in 2003, so the 1.4L 8-valve version of the EA-111 engine effectively took over the role of the air-cooled boxer in commercial vehicles and also had an increase to its presence in regional export markets where the 1.0L would seem even harder to justify. Sure the air-cooled boxer could also seem hard to justify because of its age, yet being such a well-proven powerplant with fewer parts to break would still have its appeal among some buyers who tended to neglect maintenance, and for a front-engined vehicle the improved air flow would lead to a more efficient cooling than in older rear-engined models.
Technically simpler, with a better low-end torque than some 1.0L water-cooled engines which took its role in the "People's car" segment in Brazil, the air-cooled boxer also had its advantages compared to a water-cooled 1.6L straight-4 in longitudinally-engined models such as the 3rd-generation Gol, because a shorter engine which also happened to be lighter tended to weight distribution and decrease structural efforts to the unibody. Of course relying on an aluminium-magnesium alloy was quite troublesome due to cost compared to straight-4 engines with a cast-iron block, not to mention air-cooled engines usually resorting to a richer air-fuel ratio to assist with cooling, even though in a front-mounted application it would eventually be suitable to an oil-assisted cooling more similar to what BMW used to apply to the R-series motorcycles. So, even though the air-cooled boxer was seemingly outdated at a first glance, it still could have soldiered on for longer, at least until Volkswagen got rid of longitudinally-engined cars in Brazil only in 2013...

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Would Toyota have any chance if the HiAce gets some US-spec versions?

Certainly one of the most successful among all modern commercial vehicles, the Toyota HiAce is by its own merits a common sight in many countries, even in my homeland Brazil despite never been a captive import here. As it shares many mechanical features with the traditional body-on-frame trucks and SUVs range from Toyota, including engines and transmissions, seems quite straightforward to certify for compliance with the American regulations regarding fuel efficiency and emissions, while a switch from cab-forward to a set-back cockpit in the 6th generation is part of a broader approach to increase the crashworthiness which also prevented the previous generation from having its US-spec variant. But now it's quite a good time for Toyota to eventually rethink its strategy and at least give the American van market some attention, also considering how overseas models such as the Ford Transit and the Fiat Ducato rebadged as RAM ProMaster took it over from its former orientation toward a more conservative design mostly shared with full-size trucks which are still leading the USDM as a whole.
Possibly one of the fewest changes unrelated to safety or emission regulations I could ever consider to make the 6th-generation Toyota HiAce more appealing to Americans would be replacing its rear liftgate for a barn-door setup, much easier to carry palletized loads with a forklift and a better height clearance while loading or unloading a stretcher in an ambulance conversion. Even though general export versions of the 6th-generation HiAce may eventually differ in lenght, wheelbase, overall height and even width, yet holding my breath for the narrow-body SWB model with a low roof, set to comply to a Japanese regulation which attracts a lower annual tax for so-called compact vehicles which goes as far as including commercial vehicles, is out of question, despite it eventually becoming a better choice for certain operators in some crowded metropolitan regions. But anyway, as Toyota can ultimately benefit from its worldwide economics of scale, despite the Chicken Tax which could apply in case some US-spec variant of the HiAce would be made outside the NAFTA zone which also includes Mexico and Canada, and since Mexico is not only less strict regarding safety and emission compliance enough to eventually justify the HiAce becoming also made there but is also a major export hub for motor industry, I really don't know what Toyota is waiting to finally place a bet on the USDM with the HiAce.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Are dune buggies the vehicle category facing the fiercest competition?

Having been usually built upon repurposed Volkswagen frames from models such as the Beetle, dune buggies used to have a much broader appeal in Brazil prior to the market reopening for imported cars, which brought modern SUVs and turned them into the new craze among the urban Brazilian middle and upper classes. Safety and emission laws also rendered it harder for buggy factories to keep a full production volume, even though the usage of as many components from some mainstream cars as possible could enable the economics of scale, to the point that now ABS brakes and even dual airbags can be fitted to some buggy models in Brazil, not to mention the downsizing with turbocharged 1.0L 3-cylinder engines replacing the EA827 and EA111 engines which themselves were a replacement for the venerable air-cooled boxer engine once Volkswagen phased it out. But the traditions which made buggies retain a foothold on the coastline of the Nordeste (Paraíba/Bahia/Ceará) region were not really enough to be an effective contender to other categories such as compact hatchbacks and sedans which are still prevalent within the entry-level segment in the Brazilian market.

The absence of comfort features formerly regarded as a luxury such as power steering and air conditioning, or even a basic forced ventilation which may be redundant while driving without the canvas top yet actually quite handy when a pouring rain makes the "winter top" a must even on summertime, is harder for an overwhelming majority of the Brazilian car buying public, so not even the predictably low manufacturing cost of a buggy bodyshell would render it suitable to address the needs and preferences of most new car buyers in Brazil anymore. Despite it also being possible to fit some cargo restraint devices such as racks, in order to eventually serve to the same purpose of a regular car, the practicality inherent to a hatchback or a sedan turns them into a safer bet, while a dune buggy is now mostly seen as just a curiosity on a trip to the Beach Park in Fortaleza. So, while it could be eventually possible to rely on a dune buggy as the only motor vehicle for a household, and resort to minor adaptations to enhance its suitability to the task, a fierce competition not only against a strictly conservative economy car but also against SUVs with a clearly focus on the recreational usage are quite hard to overcome...

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Brazilian 1960 Ford F-100 with a local double-cab conversion approved by Ford

For many people it's no longer unknown the Brazilian models of the Ford F-Series used to be at least one generation older than those made elsewhere, so this F-100 being a 1960 model is no surprise. What makes it really unusual is the double-cab conversion, which was provided by the Sulamericana company under an agreement with Ford, and using the same glasshouse of the regular cab. There were also van conversions performed by the same enterprise, yet those were demanded mostly by governmental entities.


Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Avallone, a Brazilian sports car from the 70s with a Chevette powertrain

Car imports had been basically out of reach in Brazil from '76 to '90, with few exceptions granted, so the need for specialty models such as sports cars was mostly addressed by local makers who had to rely on powertrains supplied by mainstream automakers with a Brazilian manufacturing operation. One of such ventures was Avallone, resorting to Chevrolet engines and transmissions for its MG replicas. The most common was the powertrain from the Chevette, as in this '76 model.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Why could it be a good deal for LiquidPiston to develop drop-in replacement engine aiming the Volkswagen Beetle?

Undeniably one of the most iconic and easily recognisable vehicles ever, the Volkswagen Beetle still has a really strong cult following around the world, remaining fairly usual to spot one serving to its original purpose as a family vehicle in countries such as Brazil or Mexico. Despite fewer other cars with a rear engine also achieving a comparable success as a regular runabout, the Beetle also got a substantial attention from the aftermarket, including all sorts of performance upgrades ranging from engine tuning kits to complete engine swaps, occasionally sought after by some people who daily-drive an old Beetle for reasons other than performance alone. While certain engines more often swapped into a Beetle with many different degrees of complexity have been tried and tested, there is a great opportunity for something specific to cover such a wide and diversified market, which actually goes way beyond the usage of the Volkswagen flat-4 engine for automobile applications, from specialty equipments to ultralight and light sports aircraft resorting to either a modified Volkswagen engine or something clearly inspired by it.
Most likely, a nearly "perfect" way to address nearly all those user cases for Beetle engine replacements could be a dedicated engine based on that LiquidPiston's X-Mini rotary engine design, yet a larger displacement on each rotor housing and some adaptations to enable twin or triple rotor setups would be desirable. As the LiquidPiston single-rotor designs usually feature the intake duct and exhaust outlets on the same side, that would render it harder to develop versions with 2 or 3 rotors, so a redesign with the exhaust ports on the opposite end-plate would be the way to go, while the hollow eccentric shaft which also doubles as an intake manifold is much harder to get rid of, yet maybe with a greater amount of rotors it would be worth to look out for other layouts... But anyway, as the only rotary engines to effectively become successful from a market standpoint, back in the day when NSU and Citroën joined their efforts to make Wankel engines while Mazda tried on its own to replace piston engines of its entire range with a basic Wankel layout prior to the oil crisis, always had 2 rotors, it's a historical precedent harder to overcome than most technical challenges which may be held against the real-world viability of an automobile engine developed according to a LiquidPiston basic project.
As the Volkswagen Beetle is still embraced by so many people around the world for the most varied reasons, with engine swaps also playing an important role for the enthusiasts and "traditional" users alike, the opportunity for a dedicated engine platform to cover this and other applications for a lightweight and compact powerplant is clearly outlined. The possibilities to venture into engine swaps for cars other than the Volkswagen Beetle, even if the specific benchmark for a development based on a LiquidPiston design would still be the Volkswagen Beetle, may lead to a quicker return of investment, considering all those other cars originally fitted with some engine frequently adapted to Beetles and derivative models from both Volkswagen and so many low-volume automakers who resorted to the flat-4 as an off-the-shelf powerplant. So, even if at a first glance it might sound pointless to look at the Volkswagen Beetle as a testbed for a modern engine, in the end this might be a quite promising opportunity to venture into...

Monday, January 01, 2024

Tecnobus Clip CL10, a walk-thru van unique to Brazil

Unlike the United States, walk-thru vans were never exactly common in Brazil, with exceptions such as the Tecnobus Clip CL10 appearing once in a while. Released in the '90s and made by a subsidiary of the defunct Viação Itapemirim, it resorted to the very same underpinnings of the Agrale 1600D RS cabover truck, which had a 63hp 3-cylinder MWM Diesel engine. The manual transmission and rear axle were the same fitted to local light-duty versions of the Ford F-Series Bumpside.