Wednesday, December 27, 2006

DIESEL A GO GO

My blog is moving to Alternate Fuels World

A MOST REMARKABLE ALT FUEL VEHICLE

As I suggested in an earlier piece on the alternative fuels and vehicle show held recently this month in Santa Monica, most such vehicles exhibit a singular lack of attitude and panache. Alt fuel connotes austerity, sacrifice, less-is-more. Alt fuel vehicles are earnest and well meaning, but frankly not much fun, and bespeak the latent Puritanism always waiting to resurface in American culture.

I would suggest that this is a bit of a problem in marketing terms. Why would I want to buy a hairshirt of a vehicle with cramped dimensions, a stodgy appearance, and sluggish performance? Depending upon my own moral bearings and political values, I might feel that such a purchase is dutiful, even necessary, but it would scarcely be undertaken with much enthusiasm.

Recently I discovered an alternative fuel vehicle, or at least one that is alternative fuel ready, that goes distinctly against the grain in this regard and which represents remarkably fresh thinking not only as how to build an exciting and yet avowedly green ride, but how to build a market for it.

The company engaged in this venture is Neander Motors, located in Germany, and the product is a diesel powered motorcycle which yet lacks a model designation. The engine, which is of modern high pressure common rail design, appears entirely capable of utilizing biodiesel in 100% concentrations.

So what did the Neander team do right?

First of all, they designed the whole thing from the ground up to achieve certain performance as well as aesthetic objectives. Second, they positioned the bike within the appropriate motorcycle subcategory, one where low volume production bikes from startup manufacturers have succeeded in the past at elevated sticker prices. Third, they conceived the bike, first and foremost, as an enthusiast product rather than a PC statement.

By all means visit the Website at www.neander-motors.com. It is detailed and informative, though, God knows, the navigation could be much better designed. It is well worth enduring the slow loading and poor organization of text. Here I’ll simply summarize the most salient characteristics of a really well conceived product, and provide a bit of background.

The Neander fits generally within the class of bikes which motorcycle journals have dubbed “bruiser cruisers”, heavy, very large displacement steeds intended primarily for touring, but with exemplary straight line performance and some pretensions to handling. Examples of the breed would include most Victory motorcycles, the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000, the new Triumph Rocket III, the Yamaha Roadliner, and the Honda Rune. Most of these brutes have engines capable of powering small automobiles and dry weights exceeding 650 pounds. None save the Neander has a diesel engines.

Diesels—and this is news to most Americans—have come a very long way over the course of the last few years. They still stink—there’s no way of eliminating that liability unless one uses biodiesel—but they now compare favorably in power output per cubic centimeter to gasoline engines. The power curve is somewhat different, emphasizing low end torque over top end brio, but most drivers probably won’t notice the difference, or, if they do, they’ll appreciate it. In other words, the diesel engine is currently at a state of development where it might at least be considered for use in a two wheeler.

Still, there are problems, including intense vibration in two cylinder embodiments, somewhat heavier duty moving parts to cope with the very high compression ratios, and generally higher noise levels.

The Neander guys—dare we call them Neanderthals—looked at the problems as challenges. They utilize dual counter-rotating crankshafts to cancel vibrations—an ingenious first—and turbocharging to coax more horsepower out of the two cylinder mill. They also developed a mechanical arrangement that reduces side loading on the cylinders and permits lighter duty parts to be used. Finally, they utilize the engine as a part of the frame which reduces the overall weight of the vehicle. In sum, they have produced a highly innovative, through-engineered power plant that produces 100 horsepower from 1,400 cubic centimeters of displacement. In contrast, the Yamaha Roadliner’s very high output gasoline engine cranks out a mere 92 horsepower from 1850cc. and much less torque.

The Neander is a long wheel base bike, typical of the breed, but at less than 650lbs is the lightest of the class. Handling of pre-production prototypes is said to be exemplary.

Within the bruiser cruiser grouping styling is important, so much so that a large proportion of the bikes sold are subsequently customized. Cosmetics, of course, is a matter of taste, but most would agree that both the mass production Roadliner and the semi-custom Rune are masterpieces of industrial design, and are instant collectibles. The Neander is at least their equal in visual charisma, and, while recalling certain classics from the past such as the old Harley Powerglide, is yet entirely contemporary and strikingly well balanced in its lines and volumes.

At this point no one can say for certain if Neander will succeed in the market. We would anticipate that at low production volumes it will reach these shores with at least a 25k price tag, more than ten thousand dollars more than most of the competition. Honda has sold out its production on the similarly expensive Rune, but then Honda put all of its resources behind the Rune and hired a crack team of American customizers to make the Rune the slickest production motorcycle on the planet. Neander will have to achieve at least equal quality control and to demonstrate superior all around performance.

At the very least, I think they’ve entered the right market. Newcomers Victory and Boss Hog have both succeeded in this class, and indeed Victory is intent on pursuing wider markets with innovative designs that in effect establish their own niches. No automotive startup could hope to achieve similar success.

If Neander succeeds it will convey a very clear message to the marketplace—you have to be better, not just cleaner. My guess is that they will succeed and that the message will be heard.

I would conclude by noting that Neander’s primary intention is not to be a motorcycle manufacturer and their bike is primarily intended to promote their engines. The engines themselves, which have extraordinarily high outputs for four stroke designs, are intended for use as outboard and inboard marine motors, in all terrain vehicles, in automobiles, and in small aircraft.

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Here I’ll simply summarize the most salient characteristics of a really well conceived product, and provide a bit of background.

property rental management said...

The engine, which is of modern high pressure common rail design, appears entirely capable of utilizing biodiesel in 100% concentrations.

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I might feel that such a purchase is dutiful, even necessary, but it would scarcely be undertaken with much enthusiasm.

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I might feel that such a purchase is dutiful, even necessary, but it would scarcely be undertaken with much enthusiasm.

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