Monday, June 17, 2013

Making that leap...

Just a quick one tonight, but I've managed to muster the courage to tell people about what I've been doing all this time. Why do I say all this time?
My work authorisation still has not come through, and I still have no idea how long it's going to take.

It's over 8 months since we first started the process.
It took immigration services 6 months to (not really) tell us we had to restart the process.

If it wasn't for my loving wife, I'd probably have spent all this time playing computer games and watching old movies & TV series, but on her suggestion I've taken some online courses from a wonderful website/organisation called Coursera.

In the past 2 months I took two courses, as they advised a 10 hour study week each,
one is called Design, the creation of Artifacts in Society,
the other is Writing 2, Rhetorical Composing.

For the design project, we were tasked with designing an artifact over the arc of the course, for those that know me best, you know I will have made something, and you can see what I've made here. This is the blog we created to document the creation and refinement of our product through the course.

Oh God, they're multiplying!? 

For the Writing course, we did 4 assignments, and I wanted to share the last one here. In this assignment we were asked to engage an audience over an issue that we were concerned about, the aim being to produce a reaction in the reader, changing their mood, changing their mind. More specifically the piece had to be researched, and is intended to be part of an ongoing conversation within society.

Once again, for those of you that know me, I am sure you will the one thing I'm largely obsessed about, and as a result wrote about.

Unicorns, specifically their presence in pop culture, and their impact on the young impressionable minds of today's youth.

Just kidding. I know you know what I wrote about.
So with no further ado, my writing assignment.

Fuel for thought.

By the power of diesel.

It was the first couple of weeks I was in New York, and I was being introduced to our friend's relative who works at a BMW dealership in Manhattan. Being a mechanic myself in Australia, I thought this would be a good way to get my finger on the pulse of the state of the automotive industry in this city. Back in Australia, I had frequent exposure to diesel cars, I had worked at a BMW dealership myself, and there was at least one diesel model for each of the series, and they sold quite well, especially in the lower end of the price scale. I had recently read about the new diesel engine that BMW had engineered for its 5 series, and since America is a much larger market than Australia, I asked him to see if he'd had any experience with the new model. At that he told me, diesel cars generally haven't been taken on in America.

This struck me as odd, and I started wondering why, as my small home country of Australia was following the path led by the Europeans in accepting a form of fuel that is overall, more efficient. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia has just about 16million passenger vehicles on the road, so while you couldn't compare the size of the automotive industry in America to Australia, I'm sure a more meaningful comparison can be drawn of the industries of America and Europe. As of 2009, according to the US Bureau of Transport Statistics, there are over 250million passenger vehicles, a number that is coincidentally, similar to the number of cars in Europe, at 250million according to the European Automobile Manufacturer's Association (ACEA).
Data collected by the ACEA in 2011 describes that in Europe 60% of new cars sold have diesel engines, but as of April 2012, according to the Detroit News, new diesel sales only account of 1% of the cars sold in America.

In this day and age of increasing environmental awareness, ecological conservation, it had become apparent to Australians that there needed to be an alternative to the cars that are solely powered by petrol, so why isn't this the case for America? Popular car buying informational websites like Edmunds and the Green Car Report all share the idea that the main problem is perception, many Americans still cling on to the notion that diesel should be the sole domain of trucks, that they are noisy, unrefined, and have a strange smell coming from the exhaust. But this is really not the case any more. Look for a review of any current European diesel currently offered by BMW, Volkswagen, Mazda and Chevrolet in America and you see a common thread that engine noise isn't very invasive, they don't feel rough or sound clattery any more, and that they often return more than 40mpg. In comparison, their gasoline counterparts usually have averages of around 30mpg.

The US has been slow to embrace diesel cars, but the last few years have shown a shift, with data from the Diesel Technology Forum showing that there has been a 24% increase in the proportion of diesel cars sold in the US since 2010, while this is promising, there is still some way to go to get the overall proportion of new cars out of single digit percentage. Some of the problem is down to manufacturers who are still reluctant to import diesels because of the aforementioned poor public perception. Of the 44 manufacturers selling cars in the US, only 7 of them sell diesel cars here. As consumers we need to pressure the manufacturers into importing more diesel cars here so that we have more choice when it comes to what fuel our car is powered by. Ultimately, everyone's individual case is different, and if there isn't a diesel vehicle for that customer, you have lost them. And that would be sad because that is a lost opportunity to put a vehicle that consumes less fossil fuel in their hands.

A more significant issue surrounding the purchase of a diesel car is always of cost, as added technology and complexity will always add cost. In 2009, the price difference between a diesel and the comparable Golf, the hatchback that the Jetta is based upon, had a fairly significant price difference of about $3000. But even this notion is changing, the 2013 year model VW Jettas mentioned before have less than $200 separating their base price now. So while you are concerned that with diesel prices being more expensive, it will not take you long to regain the initial outlay. Yes, servicing a diesel car tends to be more expensive too, but if so many people switch to hybrid cars just for the ability to save fuel, why can't we do the same for diesel?

I don't want you to think that the diesel car is a cure all for the American population using less fuel, because that would be a lie. Currently hybrid cars are doing very well here for very similar reasons as to why diesel cars flourished in Europe. The article “The Future of Diesel in the US: Analysis” in Popular Mechanics, talks about US fuel taxing policy favoring gasoline, conversely European taxes started favoring diesel as their popularity grew. So naturally, Americans have taken better to the idea of electric gasoline hybrid cars. Strangely enough, this market share is just over 3% of new cars sold in the US according to information found on, this would lead you to believe they are on par with diesel cars in market share. But they aren't, because you must remember that diesel engines span the whole range of light to heavy duty commercial vehicles as well as cars, bolstering their numbers. Hybrids on the other hand are very nearly present in passenger car only, so their 3% is more representative of the numbers sold in the passenger car market.

The concern is that, the American population thinks that the Hybrid car is the cure-all for the population using less fuel, and this is equally flawed logic. A hybrid car works by using an electric motor in conjunction with a petrol engine. Utilising whichever motivation is appropriate for the situation. But the faster you go, the less able the electric motor is able to assist the conventional engine as this is the only way to conserve battery power, as a result, you use the gasoline engine more. Diesel cars on the other hand only have the one engine, that is more efficient all the time, just compare the VW Jetta TDI to its petrol counterpart, the 2.5 litre. The TDI will consume on average 39mpg, while the 2.5 can only achieve 28 at best.

A diesel should be a realistic option when considering purchasing your next car. If you do a lot of inner-city, stop-start driving, a hybrid will work, but if you drive in a mixed range of situations, a diesel may very well be the best car to cater to your needs. Either way, we must look to alternative fuel sources to keep us mobile.


Anyway, that's my piece. It's intended to be an article informing the American public (but really anyone that has the purchase of a car in their agenda should benefit from this).

Overall I highly recommend Coursera and its aims. Don't take it too seriously because it's freely offered, and as a result is peer reviewed. Your marks will be greatly affected by how others in the course understand the material. But the lecturers genuinely care about what they're teaching, as they're doing it of their free will, and it's evident that they put great care in what they present. If you have a spare couple of hours a week, taking a class on Coursera is a very worthwhile way to spend the time.

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