Cars That Run on Green Beans and Soy Milk

The American auto industry is very big and very complicated. Even in good times, its Byzantine ways are mysterious. In these troubled times—massive job losses, high gas prices, shifting consumer demand—the picture of Detroit gets even murkier. It doesn’t help that the industry is dominated by corporate spinmeisters kicking up more dust than the Tasmanian devil. Fortunately, there are a few industry-watchers out there who can look past the flying debris, and aren’t afraid to describe the situation in vivid terms.

One is David Kiley, senior correspondent in BusinessWeek’s Detroit bureau, and the former Detroit bureau chief for USA Today. And another is Peter De Lorenzo, who writes his weekly industry-insider column on Autoextremist.com. Peter started Autoextremist after giving up a 22-year career in automotive advertising. Kiley and De Lorenzo gave a tag-team no-holds-barred presentation at THINKtank 08, a meeting of auto industry marketers and publishers, hosted by Jumpstart Automotive Media in Las Vegas, Nev., on July 22. The conversation was as insightful as it was hilarious.

Complete Fools

De Lorenzo got the crowd going by defending the rights of Americans to drive cars with V8 engines. “We can’t all drive around in balsa glider cars with smiley faces. It’s just not realistic,” he said. “Sometimes you have to go out and put your foot in something that moves a little faster than your brain can handle.”

Kiley replied, “No passenger car sold today requires a V8 engine. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be able to buy them, but they ought to be taxed through
the nose for them.” Kiley would like to see V8 cars become niche products, and believes in “socially engineering energy piggery” out of the United States. “High gas prices, and gas and engine-size taxes, is the proven way to do it.”

De Lorenzo held firm to his position on automotive liberty. He said that if we get to the point in this country when our choice of vehicle is impinged, then we’ll have a big problem. “If you live in Sausalito, and you want to drive a car that runs on green beans and soy milk, hey it’s cool,” he said. “And if you live in Detroit, and you have a 427 Stingray that you have tucked away in your garage, and you just want to drive it once every couple of weeks, that should be cool too. We have right to make complete fools of ourselves in this country. Which is cool.”

Most of the foolishness is in Detroit, according to the two speakers. Both men saw the imminent demise of Chrysler. De Lorenzo envisioned Carlos Ghosn, the chief of Nissan and Renault, waiting for the call from Cerberus Capital Management—the stressed owners of the distressed Chrysler—waiting to close shop and unload. “Carlos Ghosn is waiting by the bat phone for his call. Okay, Carlos, you win, what do you want to buy? Well, I want Jeep. I want a couple of plants. And the rest of it, I don’t care.”

Vapor and Tinsel

Kiley told the audience that General Motors management “all went to Big 10 schools and they all majored in inertia.” Harsher criticism was levied against GM’s green marketing efforts, such as the company’s decision to run a television advertisement for the Chevrolet Volt concept plug-in hybrid years before the vehicle is on the market. “They’re desperate for any kind of positive PR spin they can get,” said De Lorenzo. “But running a Chevy Volt commercial was just ludicrous.” He praised the capabilities of the Volt to become a game-changer, but directly chided Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president of vehicle sales, on the phone.


  • Bryce

    Very interesting and inciteful. Good article.

  • Old Man Crowder

    I don’t mean to pick on misspellings, but did you mean “insightful”?

    Doesn’t matter. I think I like your term better anyway.

    Since when does anyone “have to” go out and put their foot in something that goes faster than their brain? Why manufacturers continue to make vehicles that are capable of travelling 2 or 3 times the speed limit is beyond me.

    Instead of Corvettes and roadsters, I think mid-life crisis men should opt for bungee jumping.

    Or researching how to make a car run on soy milk.

  • jerome

    QUOTE of the article: “But you’re [GM] advertising a car that’s beyond smoke and mirrors marketing. It’s vapor and tinsel marketing.”

    I think they are right though – there needs to be a lot of paring back and a lot of pain before Detroit can see any growth and beauty…. which American company has the guts to do that??? no more vapor ware – no more gas guzzlers – cut the crap and get with the game of efficiency, alternative fuels and AFFORD-ABILITY???

  • Milton

    People should absolutely be free to buy a V8 if that’s what they want. No justification is necessary other than that – if you want to do it, and it’s not DIRECTLY hurting someone else, then it is your right to do so. No extra taxes should be imposed for the purposes of ‘social engineering’ or coercing people to spend a certain way. If gas is as scarce as we all believe it’s going to be then it makes sense to buy a smartcar or prius and we will see more and more on the road. Big block cars will naturally become a niche market for the upper-middle class and we will see less of them, no special tax needed (or wanted).

  • jerome

    well I would suggest that by overpowering your car and wasting resources you are already hurting people by the fact you are using more than your share of a resource. Even if that altruistic reason for no V8′s is not around then how about this whole global warming thing? I mean – burning tons of gas so you can go fast ….. and pollute the environment even faster. I do not consider a tax to decrease the amount of pollution in the air “social engineering” rather that is protecting our future.

    Here is my suggestion – if you want to go fast then get a nice road bicycle and find a steep hill

  • Bryce

    Sorry crowder…..misspellings have become more common now that I am on summer vacation….. : (

    I agree with you Milton. Hell, we don’t need V8s, and I even saw a V10 in the driveway the other day. But is someones right to purchase whatever they want. I wouldn’t expect a higher tax on SUVs. They are already expensive as they are and coupled with insurance costs and fuel costs, will prove to be their own disincentives and push people towards smaller/more efficient engines. (GM’s turbocharged 3.6L V6 puts out the same horsepower a small to midsize v8 would. Beautiful engine, and returns pretty respectable fuel economy.) Let the market work through the inivisible hand and you will be amazed by the results. : )

  • ex-EV1 driver

    No one needs a V8 for a personal vehicle. With a properly designed hybrid drivetrain, the electric portion is able to beat out any advantage that a V8 can ever provide. Even large utility vehicls such as the Suburban and Expedition can get by with a 4 cylinder engine without any noticeable performance degradation over a V8 version – if a strong electric motor does the heavy lifting and there is sufficient battery power to climb long grades.
    Unfortunately, there are no “properly designed hybrid drivetrains” being manufactured today.
    I guess we’ll just have to let the Tesla Roadsters raise the bar by trouncing anything with a V-8 in it.

  • Bryce

    lol, I would like the Tesla Roadster to beat a Vette…..or that new Nissan even that the Vette just beat on the track.

  • CircleCube

    Your right, we need to see new faces in the automotive industry, I’m tired of G., Fo.., Ch… = gas gugglers.

  • Fraw

    There’s always been a new talk about new fuel alternatives in a volvo blog. I am one who really supports biodiesel projects.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Bryce,
    Although I don’t know of any official trial between a ‘Vette and a Tesla Roadster yet, here’s a blog of a couple of folks in a ‘Vette struggling to keep up with the first Tesla Roadster as they try to blog about it:
    http://valleywag.com/358015/elon-musks-tesla-caught-on-video-smoking-scoble-and-calacanis
    Believe me, this machine has muscle unlike anything you’ve ever been in. Words can’t describe the feel of a powerful electric drivetrain.

  • Wetdog

    Just use biofuels folks. Ethanol can be made out of any kind of plant substance available, grain, sugar, even wood.
    Brazil uses sugar cane, it is 8X as efficient as corn at producing ethanol, and they produce all of their energy needs and enough to be the largest ethanol exporter in the world on just 2% of available agricultural land.
    Spain produces 750 million liters per year of ethanol from cellulose waste(wood). It is Europes largest exporter of ethanol. Spain has plans to double production in the next 2-3 years. Spain is smaller than California.
    Biodiesel is being produced right now in TX directly from saltwater algae. Biodiesel is used as produced and requires no further refining. Diesel engines require no modification to use biodiesel.
    Flex Fuel cars can use up to 85% ethanol blend or petroleum gasoline in any combination. Just use whichever is available. Flex Fuel cars cost no more than conventional gas, and have been around for over 20 years. Indy race cars, the fastest cars in the world run on 100% ethanol.
    Biofuels can be used alone or in any mixture with petroleum. Biofuels can do anything petroleum does, and do it better. Biofuels are cheap to produce, clean, non polluting, and are competely renewable and sustainable, and completely fit within the current infrastructure.
    There is no need for exotic and super expensive cars with electric or hydrogen systems that are severely limited in what they can do. We don’t need them.
    If we switch to biofuels, we answer all of the problems, and just keep right on doing what we have always done. Without the expense and pollution of petroleum oil.
    Biofuels are safer to handle as an added bonus, and accidents involving biofuels would be very localized and environmental damage would be minimal. They are natural plant products that will biodegrade in the environment naturally with no long lasting effects.

  • Wetdog

    Tesla Performance Specs

    Range About 220 miles
    (based on EPA combined city/highway cycle)
    Battery Life Useful battery, 100,000 miles
    Energy Storage System Custom microprocessor-controlled lithium-ion battery pack
    Full Charge 3.5 hours

    Must be why we don’t see any electric cars in the Indianapolis 500—-they cann’t go 500 miles.

  • Bryce

    Now that would be interesting…..electric race cars in the indy……someday I suppose.

  • Wetdog

    ———-”Now that would be interesting…..electric race cars in the indy……someday I suppose.”————————–

    They would have to be vastly improved batteries to do so. Indy 500 is a 500 mile race, at speeds hitting 240-260 mph on the straights.

    Honda builds the engines used by all Indy teams. It is a 3.5 liter V-8 that typically generates between 1200 to 1600 bhp in use.
    http://racing.honda.com/about/engine.aspx

    100% ethanol is the required fuel for Indy racers. This is now a rule for safety reasons. Alcohol has been fueling Indy racers for over 30 years. Ethanol became the prefered fuel over methanol because it is nearly identical in fuel characteristics and it is much safer to handle and less toxic.

  • Wetdog

    The long and short of it all—if you like the cars that have style, power, size and just plain fun and excitement and want to keep them around, we need biofuels. No other technology comes even close to providing all the benefits that biodiesel and ethanol do, and at a cost that is the same or less than oil is currently, and the cost of biofuels will go down significantly as more production comes online.
    Biofuels do anything that oil does, do it better, do not pollute, are cheap to produce and use, provide many valuable collateral products in their manufacture such as high protien animal feed(ethanol is just a by product that has to be taken off so we don’t have drunk cattle all over the place) fit perfectly into the current infrastructure, and can be implemented into the system in gradual increments because they are highly flexible in the ways they can be used.

    In other words, if you like cars that are stylish, substancial and just plain fun to drive, you want to support biofuels—they are the only way to have everything we have right now, and get off of dependence on oil with its expense and pollution.

  • Bryce

    That is true. Though ethanol fuels polute the same out of tail pipe, the hydrocarbons are from CO2 pulled from the air and not from the ground which means that the same carbon is cycled through the atmosphere instead of injecting new stored carbon from the ground into the air with oil.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Unfortunately, today’s Ethanol manufacturing processes consume almost as much fossil fuel energy as they produce in ethanol energy. While there may be ways to improve the efficiency of the process, it isn’t clear that ethanol will ever be completely viable for the majority of our driving needs.
    Other bio-fuels such as bio-diesel show a bit more promise since they don’t require as much energy to convert the raw biomass to a usable material.
    The other problem with bio-fuels is that it will take a lot of good, fertile real-estate to produce enough energy to meet the needs of our country and planet. A lot less acreage would be required to produce solar electricity for battery electric vehicles and the land could be cheap, essentially useless (sorry NV and AZ) desert.
    I’m not opposed to ethanol or bio-fuels and I suspect that we’ll need them in the future for motor vehicles that must operate off of carried fuels such as airplanes, ships, military vehicles, and perhaps heavy construction vehicles. I just don’t see how they can fulfill all of our needs. In other words, the concept is great but the numbers don’t add up.
    I’m very bullish on the plug-in diesel hybrid since it can burn anything but the majority of its miles can cheaply be driven using clean, easy electricity.
    I’m not sure why Wetdog thinks that only air burners can be stylish, substantial, and fun to drive though. I’ve driven both kinds of cars and can assure you:
    The Tesla Roadster rocks!
    . . . in looks and performance (except for the endurance category)!

  • Bryce

    thx EV driver, very inciteful. : ) Some sort of combination of all of these things is probably what all of these efforts now will ammount to. A multi-faceted energy portfolio.

  • Wetdog

    Ethanol in the US is currently primarily from corn as a response to the farm market/foreclosure crisis of the 1980′s. The true product is DDG(dried distillers grain) a high protien animal feed substitute for soy meal. The protien value of field corn is about 2-4%, after fermentation with yeast the protien content is 12-14%—comparable to soy meal, but much cheaper as corn yields run about 2.5 to 3 times the bushels per acre of soy. The ethanol is just a by product of the feed production. It has to be removed or you will have a herd of drunk cattle our soused pigs on your hands. Corn was never meant to be an efficient or final solution to ethanol production.
    Sugar crops are about 8X as efficient as corn or other grains at ethanol production. Brazil right now provides 80% of its transportation fuel needs with ethanol produced from sugar cane produced on just 2% of available cropland. It produces enough to meet its own needs, and enough left over to be the largest ethanol exporter in the world. Brazil began aggressively persueing alternative fuels in the mid 90′s, and had everything in place when the price of oil zoomed. All cars sold in Brazil had to be Flex Fuel capable for about 10 years. All service stations were required to sell both petroleum and E-85. For sometime the acceptance of E-85 was mixed or low. Then the price of oil began to rise and E-85 took off. Everything was in place, ready to go. People switched and didn’t look back.
    Ethanol can be made from any kind of plant material at all, including wood. This is not a new process, ethanol was produced commercially from logging and millwork waste in both the US and Germany as far back as the 1890′s. Rangeline Fuels has a plant under construction now with a final capacity of 100 million/gallons per year from waste wood from logging. This will use Fischer-Tropsch process first developed in 1924. The same process used in Germany to fuel its entire economy in WW2 after losing north africa and the bombing of Ploesti. There are also smaller plants producing ethanol from plant waste fiber in LA and WY.
    Spain currently produces 750 million liters/yr ethanol from wood and plant waste. There are plans to double production in the next 2-3 years. The Spanish energy company Abengoa owns about 20% of ethanol production in the US. Abengoa is also building 6 of the largest ethanol plants in the world to produce ethanol from bamboo.
    The Chinesse are building 1.5 million vehicles this year that run on hydrous ethanol. Straight from the still, no blending necessary. Plans are to increase production to 2.8 million vehicles next year.
    PetroSun right now is producing 4.4 million gal/yr biodeisel from saltwater algae grown in sea water holding ponds in Rio Hondo TX. Biodiesel needs no refining and replaces the need for crude oil(accounting for production, transportation and refining costs) at the rate of 1 gallon bio replaces 2.3 gallons crude.

    EV1–I have nothing at all against the Tesla, except I’d never pay the kind of money it will cost for a vehicle that can only go 100 miles from home and takes 3.5 hours to charge. I don’t think many other people will be too interested either.
    I agree with you about a Flex Fuel or diesel hybrid with plug in capability—-and I also think that the design freedoms that electric can provide combined with the very high weight/size advantage you could have with an ethanol charging engine would allow designs on hybrids that would make possible cars that are undreamed of now. Interchangable cabins that could allow you to have a sleek sports car or luxury car on day, and a big, roomy SUV the next, by exchanging modular bodies on a chasis that contains the engine/drive train. Would give a whole new meaning to “cross-overs”.

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  • Mary

    Milton I see that you say you are not huRting anyone else buying V8 cars. That is where you are misinformed. Pollution is causing global warming. Farmers who have lived on the land and it has been handed down through generations are in severe drought like never before and can no longer make a living. It is not unusual for them to commit suicide as they feel they have lost the farm and let their family down. Many third world countries are struggling and losing their land to rising seas. Crops are failing, asthma is increasing at an alarming rate, wars are breaking out over OIL, and we have serious famine, then there is the endangered species losing land to grow biodiesel fuel. The polar bears may only be in pictures for future generations. We are destroying this planet and we need to know what we are doing, and have the maturity to say ENOUGH.

  • Ge-org

    Hopefully technology such as Eestor will be the answer to have no emission clean energy. If we can get the grids on solar energy, we have enough deserts, that would be the answer. With an efficient energy storage device, I think electricity powered by the sun would be the least possible impact that we will have on this planet.

    Land that would be taken up to produce bio fuels could be returned to the creatures that are endangered to protect them for future generation to enjoy.

    In the mean time I took the proactive approach by reducing my carbon footprint as far as possible by getting a motor cycle instead of me (one person) diving my car back and forth each day. I still keep my car for when I really need it. Electric cars is still far off in South Africa, but we can all do our part in the mean time by using fossil fuel in the most efficient way possible.

    It’s one thing to talk, but what are you doing now to lessen your impact on the environment?

    Some info:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EEstor

  • Bryce

    Mary…….

    You do know deforestation and cows pollute more than cars do right?

    Don’t eat Beef……EAT DEER!!!! lol

  • Old Man Crowder

    Ge-org: I could be mistaken, but I don’t think motorcycles have pollution abatement devices (such as catalytic converters), so even though you may be using less fuel, you’re actually polluting several times more than an average car.

    Bryce: If we eat all the cows, they won’t be around to pollute. I’m going home to have 2 steaks now.

  • Bryce

    Right on!

    I had 2 pork chops…..though pigs don’t release nearly the ammount of Methane (a green house gas about 10 times worse than CO2) as cows do. : ( Guess I can’t save the world single handedly.

  • Ge-org

    Old Man Crowder: Mine does have a catalytic converter. The newer bikes that pass European emission standards gets fitted with them. Even without a converter I doubt that a 125cc can produce more emissions than a 1.4L diesel car.

  • Pete

    There also should be a tax for stupid critics who don’t think through what they say before the say it. Some have to have V8 vehicles and some choose to. For the government to tax you for it is ludicris at best. What is wrong with owning a Hummer? The polution causing the “green house” crap? Since that has just as much proof as being a hoax as some say it is real. Get off the green wagon and get on with life and let people live the way the choose to. I enjoy being free; free to choose and free to live. Don’t like it, move to China or the EU; they will love you there.
    (This comment is for the retard who got paid to write the article)

  • Abu Reels

    In addition to this, I have also seen that you can actually manufacture your own fuel source using just water. A kit can be purchased to run your car on this abundant source which if you think about it, the governments of this world don’t really want you to know about it for the moment anyway…..

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