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  • Whale Watching: Signs of the Time; Ford C-Max Turbodiesel

Whale Watching: Signs of the Time; Ford C-Max Turbodiesel

G. R. Whale
May 9, 2011
Before it popped up at the Detroit auto show, I spent a chunk of time driving a Ford C-Max around snowbanks in Europe. But unlike the powertrains shown or mentioned in Motown, mine was a diesel.
Despite winter weather that'd be downright mild in Detroit, never using cruise control, always having at least half a load on board, extended ventures in the 90-to-120-mph range, and plenty of time in urban traffic, I averaged more than 36 mpg. That's Fiesta-level fuel economy, with more performance and two more seatbelts.
Photo 2/2   |   Ford Cmax Front View
The top-spec 2.0-liter turbodiesel powering it rates 161 horses and 250 pound-feet of torque, enough to clear 125 mph on the top end and to reach 60 mph in about the same time I got in an Escalade Hybrid. The turbo is nearly inaudible, and it self-started in less than 5 seconds at 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Using Ford's European figures, the top engine cited for our market, a 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbo (about 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet) reaches 60 mph just a third of a second earlier and has a slightly higher top speed. The 1.6-liter engine costs about $2000 less than the 2.0-liter diesel, but gives up a third in mid-range torque and close to 40 percent in city fuel economy.
Regular readers know I'm a fan of diesel, but I own more gas-powered wheels than diesels. However, I've also "sold" my share of gas-electric hybrids, a few natural-gas vehicles, and now an electric to those best served by a particular configuration.
I'm pro-choice. Car companies prefer it the other way for simplification, but I would rather have options instead of rides that are designed to be all-inclusive. Most car companies offer at least gas/electric hybrids and diesels, some plug-ins, fuel cells, and straight battery electrics. Worldwide, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan have hybrids and diesels, but as far as I can tell at this writing, only Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and VW offer them in anything beyond an HD pickup or van.
Ford's missing an opportunity with its world cars by not bringing a diesel to the U.S.; it wouldn't be that hard to do the 2.0-liter TDCi. Let the buyers decide what's important by maximizing brandwidth with choices. I know I'm not the only one who would pay 10-15 percent more to get equal performance and 20-30-percent better fuel economy.
Sign updates should be stopped
The feds are still pressing forward with their re-signing mandate, a big waste of money that is hopelessly out of date. It reminds me of the Department of Energy, which 35 years ago started to reduce our "dependence" on imported oil. Its annual budget now exceeds $20 billion; we're up from 30-percent imported oil when it began, to 70 percent now.
In 1997, the feds mandated road-sign updates with 2012 to 2018 deadlines, in the name of legibility, reflectivity, and standardization. The decision was heavily influenced by results from a 3M-funded study. Coincidentally, 3M is a leading supplier of reflective material used in road signs.
There have been federal sign standards for at least 45 years, and while most of the signs affected by this mandate are not owned by the feds, those feds have provided no money for the updates. Some cities are spending six digits just to figure out how many signs they'll have to replace, and those with decorative signs of cast iron or aluminum will face a big bill. Can you imagine the bill a big city may incur changing every "No Parking at Any Time" sign to read "No Parking Any Time"?
The Federal Highway Administr-ation's 864-page tome on the subject cites publications like the Illuminating Engineering Society, National Electrical Manufacturer's Association, and the International Organization for Standardization in Switzerland. Few of our signs match international standards, and the others involved appear to have a vested interest.
The rule requires generally larger, more reflective signs. Among the oddities: Speed limit-based letter height; all upper-case for some sign groups but one capital followed by lower-case for all place/street/highway names; size rules for "No Equestrians" and "No Skaters" signs on freeways, but none for "Runaway Vehicles Only." (Plenty of vehicles run away on freeways in my state.) All this is ostensibly to help the aging population and improve emergency services. I don't know if I qualify as "aging," but the driver-license vision test hasn't changed and I miss no more signs rallying now than I did 30 years ago.
I've talked to emergency responders, and none reported missing a sign, though I'm sure it happens. But their lighting equipment continues to improve, and many have GPS in the rig, while others use GPS-based guidance from dispatch. And the majority of emergency responders are quite familiar with the areas in which they work.
Personally, I dislike sign pollution -- if your exit is in three miles, do you really need to be reminded at two miles, one mile, and a quarter mile? Not only that, but the money needed for this mandate should come from the feds. Better yet, it should be spent on road and bridge repair, not on additional bigger, brighter signs.
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