Tuesday, March 06, 2018

5 reasons why sidecars are often seen as a taboo in some 3rd-world countries

Sidecars have been around for a long time, serving for many different purposes since the early days of motoring. The world has changed a lot in the meantime, with conventional cars taking over some of the market-share that used to be captive for sidecars due to their technical simplicity and perceived lower cost since the early postwar when affordable cars with air-cooled engines suitable to be parked outside even in the European winter such as the Citroën 2CV and the Volkswagen Beetle got their days of glory. Even though the market-share for sidecars in developed markets have now been more restricted to recreational/enthusiast uses, mostly for passenger transport, they still have plenty of potential to address the needs of affordable light transport in emerging and underdeveloped countries. Cargo applications have become quite popular in Brazil in the last two decades but, like other 3rd-world countries, its use for passenger hauling became quite a taboo. Among the reasons that led to this awkward situation, at least 5 are more relevant.

Exposure to the elements: this might be more critical for passenger transport, while some enclosures are more easily available (though not always effectively implemented) for cargo. Be it due to weather conditions, unpleasant smells on the way and fumes out of poorly-mantained vehicles, or fearing that some loose objects falling from other vehicles and debris could harm the physical integrity of the rider and passengers, it's not a negligible concern.
Lack of a perceived "prestige": even though this matter is not so relevant for commercial operators, who value functionality and lower operating cost overall, it's known that a car may be regarded more aspirational for private users. So, even though a sidecar may be easily achievable in a shorter term, is not usually the first choice.
Nazi stereotypes: this seems to be more prevalent in Brazil. Whenever the possibility of getting a passenger-hauling sidecar rig is mentioned, its usage by Nazi German troops during World War II is always reminded. Surprisingly, all the people who expressed me their objections toward sidecars due to some reminiscence of Nazi military motorcycles were non-Jewish.
Requirement of a motorcycle endorsement for the driver license: sidecars rigs actually don't have a handling so close to the one of a motorcycle not fitted with this device, and are also not so identical to a car in this regard. However, since they occupy roughly the same space of a car over the roadway, most noticeably width-wise, the usage of sidecars could become more widespread among low-income customers in third-world countries if they were entitled to ride them without the requirement of a motorcycle endorsement on their driver licenses. Considering the lower purchase price compared to an average subcompact car and the higher maintenance cost of older jalopies which could be replaced by a sidecar rig, a legal provision enabling their riding by holders of a standard car driving license may become an effective way to decrease fuel consumption and emissions.
Perception as a makeshift approach: despite having its cost-effectiveness and suitability to many different tasks already proven, sidecars are still often pointed out as a mere makeshift. It's worth to notice that sidecars and trailers have a similar function, which is basically to expand the capabilities of the vehicles they're fitted to, so since trailers have already had their utility recognised maybe it's time to also consider giving sidecars a try.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Why is it pointless to ban older Diesel cars like it's been proposed in Germany?

The recent decision of a federal administrative court in Leipzig, recognising the legality of proposed restrictions to the circulation of Diesel-powered cars certified according to emission standards other than the current Euro-6, is one of those initiatives that may initially sound reasonable, but in fact are not so effective in regard to the "sustainability". Let's consider some aspects that render it pointless...

Relatively ease of retrofits to make 2000 and newer model-years compliant to current standards when their engines get due to an overhaul instead of simply getting rid of them: taking as example the Alfa Romeo 146 when fitted with the 1.9 JTD engine, fitted with a 1st-generation common-rail injection, much of its basic engine design is shared with newer models such as the Jeep Renegade, which in its Diesel-powered versions rely on engines from the Pratola Serra modular engine series that also originated the 1.9 JTD. Well, even though an eventual need to fit an AdBlue tank could become an issue, I can relate that to the usage of an auxiliary gasoline/petrol reservoir in older Brazilian dedicated-ethanol and flexfuel vehicles as a cold-start aid. Quite bothersome, but not impossible at all.

Cost and energy consumption of the manufacturing of replacement vehicles: an overwhelming majority of the 15 million Diesel-powered vehicles in Germany is now deemed "outdated" according to the proposed restrictions to be implemented initially in cities like Stuttgart and Dusseldorf, with only around 2.6 million or 8.6% of all Diesel vehicles in Germany already being certified in accordance to the Euro-6 standards. Even though the recycling of end-of-life vehicles is taken more seriously in Europe than in other regions, an extension to the operating useful life of an earlier model that is still roadworthy makes more sense than scrapping it from a sustainability standpoint. Well, just a few mechanical parts that might require a replacement and eventual updates to the engine management software require a lower energy input and fewer raw materials.

Impact on the resale value of used vehicles: this is another possible matter of concern, not just for the German domestic market but also for used car exports to African, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries where the import of used cars is allowed. Well, even though some older models still fitted with mechanically-governed indirect-injection engines such as the Citroën AX 1.5D or the Ford Fiesta Mk.4-based Courier Kombi 1.8D might not have an expressive resale value nowadays, others such as the 2nd-generation Fiat Doblò and the Hyundai Matrix which had been available with common-rail injection and forced induction since day one would be more heavily impaired in this aspect. Well, even though it may be arguable that North African used car dealers would try to stockpile as many cheap older Diesel cars as they could, it's not clear to which point the current owners of vehicles with a more advanced engine would receive a fair compensation to either replace them with a newer spark-ignited equivalent (eventually hybrid) or to retrofit them to become compliant to Euro-6. In a worst-case scenario, should we expect some Germans to resort to motorcycles with sidecars like their ancestors used to do before the introduction of the Beetle???

Higher suitability of most "jalopies" to alternate fuels: most noticeably the ones fitted with old-school indirect injection such as pre-2000 versions of the Opel Combo still fitted with the Euro-2 Isuzu 4EE1 engine or the Peugeot Partner/Citroën Berlingo with the Euro-3 DW8 engine, older Diesel-powered vehicles not fitted with some devices such as the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) are easier to adapt to run on pure vegetable oils, either fresh or reclaimed from culinary applications, plus the slower combustion process makes it have an even better fuel economy due to the slower burn of those oils with their natural glycerin content. Other models and versions already resorting to direct injection may not have issues associated with the evaporation of the fuel at the DPF core during its self-cleaning (also called "regeneration") process when running on biodiesel.
Ignoring the impact on commercial operators and prices of goods and services: even though the proposal of "blue corridors" with a steady supply of natural gas (Erdgas) in the most important motorway routes throughout the European Union is already meant to address an eventual need for replacement of Diesel fuel in the commercial transport, plus the German expertise on biogas/biomethane leading to a rather easy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, there is a high cost involved and it may affect either the profitability of businesses and individual entrepreneurs or increase the price of goods and services in order to rebate the expenses of either a fleet renewal or the retrofit of newer engines with their associate fuel systems and emission-control devices.

There might be many other aspects to consider, but these 5 might already highlight why a Diesel ban goes against the best interests of German people, and also represents a dangerous precedent for the eventual loss of many other individual freedoms in Europe...