Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Mind Unused

It's been a while since I've gotten to trot out the Junk Science label. Usually I do it for mainstream media programs, but this evocative headline is currently making the rounds:
It's from a site called "". It SHOULD be called "". And let's give credit where it's due: the source of this article is Jim Stone [note 1].  This is the epitome of a conspiracy theorist's article: full of crap, bereft of fact-checking or anything much in the way of facts of any kind. Everything you need to know about the conspiracy theory proposed is pretty much contained in or implied in the headline, but here's "Cliff's Notes" summary:
This car represents the current state of what's practical in automotive technology. It's an affordable, spacious, roomy, heavy vehicle that gets 300 miles per gallon without any real need for exotic lightweight materials. It could be on the roads of America practically "as is" were it not for the intervention of the Big Oil Companies.
Oooooo..... Ahhhhhh.....
What a big, lovely car!
Sure, read the article. Then read a few more, like Car & Driver. Or the USA Today article, which notes:
Barely a real production model, it's made in a factory, but largely by hand. It couldn't meet U.S. safety rules and needed changes in German rules to be on the road there.
This car isn't for sale in America because it's about the SIZE OF A GO-KART + engine compartment, and because it violates innumerable basic safety regulations to get this mileage. This is deftly hidden in the cherry-picked and sometimes-distorted photos, but easily seen in the video and the few candid shots that include people for scale and don't carefully choose the perspective. The XL1 is about waist-high to an average height male, and not much broader. It has no side mirrors. It has no rear window at all: the engine is where the rear window would be. It's not been crash-tested because the result is a foregone conclusion: it has no crumple zones. It's so narrow the seats are staggered. It cannot clear a speed bump.
Wait.... WHAT?

Not a scale model.
Yes, it gets gobs of miles to the gallon. But Honda built a two-seater back in the 70s that did respectably well, too; powered by a motorcycle engine. And the BMW Isetta (a true production car) was hitting 94 mpg using a 250 cc engine in 1955 using the same design mantra: build tiny, build light. The "300 mpg" estimate for the XL1 is in an ideal scenario. The USA Today test drive puts it at 200 mpg, but I'm not going to quibble... that's still a damned respectable rating.  But that's not the be-all and end-all of consumer driving. You still have to carry people and their stuff around, and mass takes energy to move. Contrary to the Stone's rabid ravings, the expensive and exotic materials used are not just "bunk". They are in large part how the mileage is achieved. 795 kg is feather-lite for an automobile though in his ignorance the Stone attempts to make it sound massive. And despite the theory pulled from a tin foil hat, the oil companies have absolutely nothing to do with VW's production line.

VW know their market. This is a great technology showcase and conversation starter, and a limited run of 250 (NOT 2,000) at a price of $150,000 each (NOT $60,000) is just enough so they can lay claim to it being a "production vehicle" for PR purposes. But when the technologies are scaled up to road-worthy, practical-sized cars with safety features like firewalls and airbags and crumple zones, a lot of that mileage disappears. Nevertheless, something's better than nothing, and some of this tech will be applied to cars like the VW Golf. There's certainly no conspiracy going on.

As reported by, here's an example of VW using the "production car" label in an actual Volkswagen press release, demonstrating that the value of this exceedingly limited run is for promotional purposes.
Futuristic-looking TDI® Clean Diesel plug-in hybrid nets 261 mpg on the European combined fuel economy cycle

• XL1 can operate as a pure EV for up to 31 miles
• Two-cylinder TDI engine displaces 0.8 liters, makes 48 horsepower
• Best aerodynamics of any production car: Cd of just 0.189
• Super-low weight of 1753 pounds achieved through extensive use of carbonfiber, aluminum, and magnesium
• 250 will be built at Volkswagen’s Osnabrück factory in Germany

New York - New Yorkers got a glimpse of the future this week, as the Volkswagen XL1 arrived in the City as part of a month-long American tour that took in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and the Big Apple.

In case you missed it, this is a VW XL1, on the street in New York City.
"Not allowed in America"? Really??

In the end, I can't give Jim Stone the Junk Science label because he's a not a scientist. He's just another blogger: one who's really bad at math and science and who chooses not to check his facts. I probably should have a label for that, but in the meantime I'll award him this really bitchin' magnet he can use to deactivate the government microchip in his head.

  1. Yes, I had to wrestle with myself over giving a link and a paltry few views to Jim Stone, Freelance Journalist, but in the end I did because you should know where this crap comes from. Besides, I had to laugh out loud at the page header. The "Jim Stone, Freelance Journalist" title of his blog should really be pronounced like a comic-book logo, with hands on hips.

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