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Calgary Herald, The Mighty Mini Turns 50, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy BMW: John Cooper Works MINI with a traditional Cooper S.

This story first published in the Calgary Herald section Oct. 31, 2008.

The mighty Mini turns 50 in 2009.
And with the car marking a special anniversary next year we thought we’d celebrate the Mini/MINI that has become a cultural icon. As a note, Mini refers to the original or classic car, while MINI denotes the BMW version.
Calgarian and Scottish ex-pat Malcolm Mann can attest to the allure of the Mini. He’s had a passion for the diminutive autos since he was 18 years old — and bought his first in 1967. Mann has raced them, tuned them, fixed them, and even built new ones.
Working from his Calgary repair shop — Auto Mann — he has imported new body shells from the UK and installed a mix of completely rebuilt parts from a donor car and new components to create the closest thing to a brand new traditional Mini he could get.
Now, he’s planning on building a Mini equipped with a modern Honda V-Tec engine.
“As a traditionalist, I appreciate the style of the classic Mini package,” Mann says. “But I also like to modify that a bit with 13″ wheels and fender flares.”
Sir Alec Issigonis designed the classic Mini in response to a British fuel crisis in the mid-1950s, and the car was meant to be as bare bones as possible.
Produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC), under its Austin and Morris brands the Mini set a new standard in front wheel drive technology. Engine capacity started at 848cc, and grew as large as 1,275cc in some later cars.
The first Minis had external door hinges, sliding windows, a rubber suspension system and 10″ wheels. That minimalism was all part of the Mini’s less is more equation, and some would say a big part of the car’s charm.
Minis were popular with rally racing drivers, and the car won several prestigious events. It didn’t hurt to have someone like John Cooper, an enthusiastic racer and tuner, add some of his magic to the tiny Mini. He increased the engine’s power, and added disc brakes at the front. The Mini Cooper and Cooper S models proved very popular for both racers and the general public alike.
Mini built the car in a number of different models, and that included an extended wagon, van and even a truck. Over the years — the Mini was built from 1959 until 2000 — the car did evolve, and lost some of those original design cues such as the exposed hinges and sliding windows. But even at the very end of its production run the car would not have been considered a luxury automobile.

BMW’s MINI, however, was designed to be small yet refined. Unveiled in 2001 the MINI brought something different to the marketplace.

“The focus of BMW as a brand will always be to produce a premium product,” says Rob Dexter, product and technology specialist at BMW Canada. “And when BMW turned their attention to the MINI brand, there wasn’t really a compact car that could be called ‘premium’.

“There were a lot of premium cars, and there were a lot of compact cars, but there wasn’t a premium compact car.”
MINI was officially introduced to Canada in the spring of 2002. The MkI MINI was sold in two variants, the Cooper and the Cooper S. An inline four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine powered both cars, but the Cooper S featured a supercharger, and that extra boost raised the available horsepower from 115 to 163. A convertible MINI was added to the lineup in 2005.
MINI MkII cars came on the scene in 2007. These MINIs are fitted with a new 1.6-litre, DOHC four-cylinder engine; in the case of the Cooper and Cooper Classic a normally aspirated version while the Cooper S gets a twin scroll turbocharger.
In the spring of 2008 BMW introduced the MINI Clubman — an extended version of its three-door hatchback — also available in Cooper S trim.
Even more performance is packed into the Mini John Cooper Works versions of the new cars, and a tuned and turbocharged 1.6-L engine in the JCW car makes 208 h.p., compared to the 118 h.p. of the Mini Cooper and Cooper Classic.
BMW ended production of the convertible MINI in late June 2008, and according to, a MINI-fan website, there is a new soft top MINI on the way based on the updated MKII platform.
Even more recently MINI unveiled a Crossover Concept, a vehicle that, if it enters production, would see MINI design cues on a four-wheel drive, four-door semi-utility vehicle.
And, not content to stop there, MINI is going to produce 500 all-electric, rechargeable lithium-ion battery equipped cars. With a range of 240 kilometres and powered by a 150 kW (204 h.p.) electric motor, these MINIs are part of a pilot project and will be put to the test in three states: California, New York and New Jersey. The MINI E will debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 19.
BMW’s Dexter is a big fan of the traditional Mini. He’s owned three of them, and refers to them — especially the Cooper and Cooper S models — as: “Cool little cars that go like stink.”
Calgary teacher Linda Soby has always driven a British car, from a Jaguar XK120 to an Austin Healy 3000, and MGAs and MGBs — one of which she still owns. But her fondest memories are of a pair of Minis — ‘Rose’ and ‘Tang’ — that she owned in the mid-1970s.
Her students at a certain Calgary school were apt to get up to mischief with her car, and she tells this story.
“I’d pack up my bags, and head toward the back parking lot, and would discover the car wasn’t where I’d left it,” Soby says. “The group of students who had picked it and up and carried it to a different location were always there to help me find it. They took great delight in my hysteria. Just part of the joys of driving a Mini.”
They couldn’t do that today with a BMW MINI. While a classic Mini weighs in the region of 668 kg, the new car tips the scales at 1155 kg, almost double the original weight.

Photo courtesy BMW: 1968 Morris Mini Cooper S in London

Dexter thinks BMWs MINI is a great car, and says: “There is the heritage of the Mini shape — the new car is still recognizable as a Mini — but just a bit bigger and better. The design cues are there with the speedo in the middle of the dash and the bucket seats up front and the bench rear seat.
“My first impression (of the new car) was ‘Wow’, I felt like I was sitting in a (classic) Mini, but the new MINI was improved in all the ways it needed to be.”
But BMW didn’t play up the original Mini when it began marketing their car. The company wanted to introduce the MINI as a whole new concept, and expected a young buyer with no recent memory of the classic Mini. As it turns out, the MINI’s buying demographic is all over the map. According to Dexter the gender bias is split 50/50, and the median buying age is mid-40s.
“I don’t think that’s what we originally planned for,” he says. “We initially targeted a younger group, and developed a cheeky and irreverent type of marketing approach.”
While Mann has driven a new MINI and enjoyed the experience, he doesn’t believe the new car hit the mark. So he’s planning on dropping a modern Honda V-tec engine into a 1968 Mini van he owns, and will use a Mini Tec mounting kit from MiniMania in California. He says one simply unbolts the front sub frame, installs the Mini Tec package, and bolts in a Honda engine from a donor car. It might be a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the rough idea.
“You’ve the got the cuteness or beauty, if you will, and the handling of the original Mini with a great reliable motor, the power of which will just blow you away. I’ve driven one, and it felt like motorcycle-like acceleration; it’s fast,” he says.
Whether you knew the car in its earliest days as the Austin Mini, he Morris Mini-Minor, or later the Mini, or MINI; over the years the little car has and continues to endear itself to millions.

Photo courtesy BMW: John Cooper and son Michael.

John Cooper’s Influence on the Little Car
Would the Mini have become so popular without the help of racecar builder John Cooper?
After all, it was Cooper who helped the tiny Mini gain worldwide recognition when the car won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.
Ironically, Sir Alec Issigonis — the Mini’s designer –was initially cool to the idea of Cooper tuning the car and entering races. Cooper had long been involved with Formula Junior racing cars, and used modified Morris engines to power his creations. His opinion on power and how to make it was respected, so when Issigonis first started sketching the Mini he involved Cooper, and the two men talked engines.
As the Mini became a reality, Cooper got his hands on one and entered it in the 1959 Grand Prix in Monza. He wanted a car to beat the Lotus Elite, and had already tried with a Renault Daphine. The entire 1959 race turned into a battle with Reg Parnell and his Aston Martin DB4 — and Cooper’s Mini turned out to be an hour faster than Parnell’s DB4.
Convinced he was on to something, he talked to Issigonis about developing a GT car with the Mini. Issigonis balked, and according to one source it was because he saw the car as a ‘people’s car for everybody.’ So Cooper went straight to the British Motor Corporation where his idea was warranted to have merit, and the company built 1.000 Mini Coopers to his specifications, which included a stroked and de-bored 997cc engine fitted with double carburetors, modified gear ratios, and a pair of 7″ Lockheed disc brakes up front to help stop the car.
Enthusiasts snapped up the hot cars and a string of motorsport wins ensured BMC remained interested in Cooper’s work, and Issigonis also changed his mind and got involved. Together, the two men created the Cooper S, with an even more powerful 1,071cc engine and bigger brakes.
The Mini Cooper and Cooper S cars were built from 1961 to 1971, and then again from 1990 to 2000 when the Rover Group owned the Mini brand.
When the BMW MINI became a reality in 2001 there couldn’t be any doubt that there would be Cooper and Cooper S badges on the car.
In 2000 John Cooper created the John Cooper Works company to produce parts and pieces for the new MINI. Cooper died shortly after setting up JCW, and the reins were handed to his son Michael. In 2007 BMW bought the JCW brand.

Photo courtesy BMW: Mini Cooper S at work in the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally.

Calgary Herald, Tire Carving a New Art Form?, by Greg Williams

This story first published in the Calgary Herald Driving section, Oct. 17, 2008.

Photo courtesy Hankook Tire America, Corp. Jim Horvath at work carving rubber.

Carving wood or stone, that’s not too unusual.
But carving rubber — now that’s different.
Meet Jim Horvath of Uniontown, Ohio. He’s a man with an interesting job. As a senior associate engineer with Hankook Tire America Corp., Horvath works at Hankook Tire’s Akron Technical Center (ATC). His informal job title, though, is that of tire carver.
“Some people have referred to this (tire carving) as an art form,” Horvath says. ‘But that’s stretching it — I’m more a model maker.”
Horvath has worked in the tire industry for close to 36 years, and he’s been involved with tire carving since its infancy. The ‘trade’ was born in the mid-1970s, and the idea behind it was to take a flat, two-dimensional drawing and turn it into a tangible, three-dimensional product.
To visualize what Horvath does, go and take a look at the tread pattern on a tire on your vehicle. Notice all the different wedges, angles and grooves in that tread? If it is a Hankook tire, chances are good Horvath hand carved each and every one of those nooks and crannies in a prototype tire before a formal tire mold was ever made.
His canvas is a blank tire, similar to a racing slick. Using a tool he designed and had custom made — there’s not another like it — he hand cuts the tread pattern in a tire. The tool is similar to a soldering gun, but features jaws in which he can mount a number of different blades. A microswitch controls when the tool is turned on and off, and a rheostat sets the temperature at the blade.
For Horvath, the trick in tire carving is using just the right amount of heat at the appropriate time for a smooth and consistent cut.
“Setting the electrical current (heat) too low makes it difficult to push the blade through the rubber, and setting it too high could cause the rubber to burn or melt– and then you’re also changing the property of the rubber,” Horvath explains. “Rubber is amazing stuff, and depending on the different compounds it can be easy or hard to cut. If there’s silica in the compound it wears out the blades, a softer tire can be gummy.”
A tire designer will often create five or six tire sketches, and then an engineer will pick one or two of those to go to the tire carving stage.
“We can hand carve any one of those designs without ever having to make a mold,” Horvath says. “If an engineer wants, we can cut four tires and put them on a vehicle and test them.”
Depending on the intricacy, or how ‘lacey’ the design is, Horvath can carve a tire in as little as four hours. An intricate pattern might take him three or four days.
As part of the Hankook engineering team Horvath often travels to sites where real world testing of their prototype tires is taking place. Using his tire carving skills and his custom-made tool he can actually tweak the tread design for further testing. He says it’s often a noise or traction issue that needs to be corrected.
Horvath figures every major tire manufacturer has a tire carver — but there are no classes one can attend to learn the trade. And, there’s no tire carver association or big conventions in Las Vegas. All training is learned on the job.
Horvath got his start in the tire industry working in the art department at General Tire as a draftsman. He spent seven years drawing, and then began tire carving, something he’s been doing for nearly 30 years.
“The years spent drafting helped me to read a drawing and understand the tire requirements, and I’ll have a good idea what the finished tire is supposed to look like,” Horvath says.
Tire carving is part art and part science. But Horvath’s hobby — woodcarving — is pure art. When asked what the most difficult thing he’s ever carved might be, surprisingly the answer is not a tire.
“I once carved a horse in black walnut for a young girl, and I sweat more over that than anything else I’ve done in my life,” Horvath says. “Accurate detail is what I’m after.”

Photo courtesy Hankook Tire America, Corp. Samples of Horvath’s carved work.

Calgary Herald, 100 Years of the Model T, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.

This story first published in the Calgary Herald Driving section Sept. 26, 2008.

“You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world,” sang the Beatles in their 1968 hit Revolution.
While Henry Ford and the Beatles were decades — and worlds — apart, the Model T Ford did start a revolution, and it did indeed change the world.
The famous Model T Ford, first sold on October 1, 1908, celebrates its 100 th anniversary this year. Coming from humble origins, the Model T Ford broke through socio-economic and class barriers, and is perhaps one of the most influential automobiles of all time. In fact, late in 1999, the Model T was named ‘Car of the Century’ by a panel of 133 automotive journalists who chose the Tin Lizzie from a list of 700 contenders.
“Henry Ford and the Model T revolutionized the auto industry,” says Christine Hollander, communications manager at Ford of Canada. “The Model T changed the world by providing transportation to the masses, and it introduced a new way of (vehicle) manufacturing.
“We still have that same vision at Ford: producing high quality, affordable transportation for the masses.”
While there are many events happening to celebrate the Model T Ford’s anniversary, the largest undertaking by a North American transportation museum is an interactive display at Alberta’s own Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin. The Model T: How Tin Lizzie Changed the World runs until February 28, 2009 (
There are 25 Model Ts on display, including ‘adapted’ cars that have been made into a snowmobile, a tractor, a T-bucket hotrod, and a racecar. There’s a Model T engine in an airplane, and an example of a repurposed T engine as an inboard boat motor by a Brantford, Ont. company.
“The Model T Ford had such an impact around the world, and we needed to do a celebration around this particular car — it was so impactful,” says David Dusome, RAM’s director and lead researcher for the project.
The museum didn’t want to present a bunch of technical or mechanical details about the Model T; Dusome says that kind of information is readily available. What RAM wanted to investigate and portray was the social impact of Henry Ford’s car.
“There were two main social impacts,” Dusome says. “First, there was the democratization of ownership, and second, there was the democratization of desire.”
Make no mistake; there were cars prior to Ford’s Model T. There were many automakers producing mechanized forms of transport — but automobiles were solely playthings for the rich. The wealthy were the only ones who could afford the hobby.
But as Dusome says, thanks to mass production of the Model T, the car became affordable.
“At that point, the average person could say, ‘I can own a car’.” And it didn’t matter where you lived — Model Ts were readily available. It could have been a small town such as High River, Alberta. Chances were good there’d be somebody selling Fords.
Now that just about everyone could afford to put a Model T Ford in front of the house, everybody wanted one — leading to what Dusome dubs the democratization of desire.
“Soon, everyone desired an automobile, and today, each of us believes we have a right to own a vehicle,” Dusome says.

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.

When the Model T Ford was introduced in 1908 the car cost $825. Thanks to Ford’s manufacturing efficiencies gained through the moving assembly line that price decreased to $260 by 1925.
According to Dusome, there’s a Canadian sub-story to how Ford came to implement the assembly line. Peter E. Martin of Wallaceburg, Ont. was the fifth employee hired to the Ford Motor Co., and was put in charge of Ford’s Piquette Ave. assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan in 1908. The Model T was designed and developed at the Piquette Ave. plant.
Dusome picks up the tale about Martin and the assembly line: “There’s a story of how William C. Klann was at an abattoir at the Chicago stockyards, watching a carcass move from worker to worker as it hung from a chain. The idea was if you could disassemble something as it moved along, could you build something?
“This idea of the moving chain came back to Martin, and he could have easily said ‘That’s a stupid idea’, but he didn’t. They set up a small assembly line, and experimented with speeds. That was piloted at the Piquette Ave. Ford plant, and it was spearheaded by a Canadian — Peter Martin.”
There was mass production prior to the moving assembly line — but that mass production consisted of workers and parts moving from chassis to chassis.
Henry Ford wanted the Model T to be a car for all people, and also wanted it to be durable and reliable, able to tackle the rough dirt roads of the period. The Model T Ford had a 2.9-litre four-cylinder engine mounted in the front. Producing 20.2 horsepower, the engine transferred its power to the rear wheels via a planetary gearbox equipped with two forward speeds, and reverse. Model Ts were good for a top speed of 64-to 72-km/h.
Several body styles such as Roadster, Fordor, Sedan and Runabout (truck) were all mounted on the same Model T chassis, and used the same four-cylinder motor. Ford basically set the stage for modern auto manufacturing where several different cars share the same chassis, but are completely different from each other in regards to body and style.
Model Ts were simple, and the average owner could tackle many of the necessary maintenance and repair chores. Ford of Canada’s Hollander recalls attending a Model T celebration in Richmond, Indiana where a group of four or five individuals took a disassembled T from a pile of parts to a running auto in only a few hours.
“It was a simple technology, and a technology that worked very well,” she says of the Model T.

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Co. Paul Larson from Clear Lake Iowa at the July 21, 2008 Model T Ford celebration in Richmond, Ind.

The president of the Foothills Model T Ford Club in Calgary, Glen McDonald, would agree ( Old cars have fascinated McDonald, 61, since he can remember. At 16 his first car was a 1949 Dodge, but it wasn’t too long before he owned a Model T.
“One day my uncle phoned me up, and said he’d discovered parts and pieces of an old car in an industrial yard they were cleaning up east of the city,” McDonald says. That was in 1976. What he dragged home was a 1926 Model T Sedan, but the body was so far gone McDonald turned the car into a Roadster. It took him a few years of work, but the car is now on the road and McDonald uses it regularly on annual tours.
The Foothills Model T group organizes three or four outings or tours each year, sometimes driving their Ts as far as 160 to 240 kilometres at a stretch.
“We drive the cars, and that’s how people see them – on the road. Show and shines are something we don’t do,” McDonald says.
And he can attest to how well the simple technology of the Model T actually works. He tells a story of being on a tour when the weather turned wet and he needed to get his Roadster up a muddy and damp grassy incline. A modern four-wheel drive truck was stuck a quarter of the way up, but McDonald just drove straight up the hill in his Model T.
“That”s what the Model Ts did, they were designed to go along a muddy, pot holed road. That’s when they’re in their element.”
When the last Model T rolled off the line on May 26, 1927 more than 15 million Model T Fords had been built and sold. That was an automotive feat not bested until the VW Beetle surpassed that sales figure in 1972.
Dusome says that by 1924 50 per cent of the cars in the world were Model T Fords. He adds that a modern-day analogy of that kind of proliferation and market acceptance would be akin to Microsoft computer software.
And that’s another kind of revolution — computer technology has changed the way vehicles are made, and how consumers are using them.
“The Model T and the vision behind it is part of our corporate culture,” concludes Ford’s Hollander. “The Model T is part of our heritage, and today we strive to deliver technologically smart, safe, and sustainable fuel efficient vehicles.”

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.

-During his research, RAM’s Dusome came across a survey performed by Robert and Helen Lynd called Middletown, in which the couple took a look at a slice of small-town Americana in Muncie, Indiana.
“They surveyed 26 car owning households,” Dusome says. Most of those automobiles would have been Model Ts. “Of those 26, 21 of (the households) didn’t have indoor plumbing or a bathtub. When asked ‘Why would you have a car and not a bathtub’, one of those being surveyed said ‘Because you can’t ride to town in a bathtub’.”
-By 1930 in Alberta 60 per cent of the cars on the roads were Model T Fords; six out of every 10 people in the province were driving the same make and model car.
-The Model T Ford is a handful to drive, literally. The spark and throttle levers are mounted on the steering column, in front of the steering wheel and are controlled by hand, while three floor-mounted pedals keep the feet busy. The left pedal is low gear when it’s pushed to the floor, neutral when in the middle, and high gear when it’s all the way out. The middle pedal is reverse gear, and the right pedal is the brake. Unlike modern cars where the brakes are at each wheel, the brake in a Model T is actually in the gearbox. “There’s an art form to driving a T, it’s different,” says T owner Glen McDonald.
-Thank the Model T for today’s huge 21-inch wheels and tires and anything that’s added to a vehicle after it rolls off the showroom floor. Over the years, thousands of Model T accessories have been sold, and it’s suggested the T spawned the aftermarket parts industry — today a $38 billion trade.
-No question about it, Model Ts were primarily black — almost 12 million of the 15 million total Model Ts were black. But, in the early and late years of Model T production, the car was produced in many different colours, including blue, red, green and grey.
-In May 2008 Ford challenged six universities worldwide to design a vehicle as revolutionary as the Model T with its attributes: simple, lightweight, practical, compelling; and priced below $7,000. Two scholarships will be awarded to the best designs for the Model T of the 21 st century — winners will be announced on Oct. 1, 2008.

Calgary Herald, Exotic Cars and Ride of a Lifetime, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Cardel Group of Companies

There’s something universally appealing about an exotic automobile.
The power, the design, the very sound of a machine such as an Aston Martin or a Bugatti transcends boundaries and connects at both a visceral and emotional level.
And the language of the automobile will be put to use tomorrow as the second annual Cardel Homes Ride of a Lifetime attempts to make a difference for a group of troubled teens.
Started in 2007 by brothers Damon and Ryan Ockey of Cardel Homes, the Ride of a Lifetime is supported by the Exotic Car Club of Calgary. Members of this club of local motorsport enthusiasts own vehicles ranging from BMWs to Ferraris and Lamborghinis and everything in between. They often rent the road course at Race City so members can enjoy their cars in a safe and controlled environment.
“We often like to bring friends who’ve never experienced a fast car out to the track,” explains Damon Ockey, 41. “It’s almost as much fun to see other people’s reaction to the cars than it is to drive them.
“We’ve had our friends out here and that’s great, but what about people who never get the chance to experience something like this?”
And that would be kids from troubled backgrounds.
Ride of a Lifetime puts teens in the passenger seat of a variety of exotic vehicles for a day of high-speed thrills and mentorship. Selected from three Calgary social agencies — Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, Big Brothers, Big Sisters Calgary and Hull Family and Child Services — 30 youth between the ages of 11 and 17 will get up close and personal with powerful performance cars.
“Who doesn’t love an (exotic) car?” says Ockey, Cardel’s director of marekting. “You may not know the specs or what it can do, but these cars are so unique and beautiful.
“And the kids get to experience these cars and get some mentoring at the same time. A lot of these guys in the club weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths, they had to work hard to get where they are.”
Ockey says he’s always had a passion for exotic cars. He currently owns a 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo, and says the experience of driving a performance vehicle on a track is a feeling one does not soon forget.
“It’s infectious,” he says. A student of several performance driving schools himself, including the Allen Berg Racing School, Ockey says the members of the Exotic Car Club all have a great deal of track and performance driving experience.
“We go to Race City and put in lapping sessions, and once you’ve driven your car on the track you understand the true potential of your vehicle.”
This year, the kids will get T-shirts to commemorate their day at the track, and all participating drivers will get jackets. Drivers each pay a $200 fee to participate, and as Ockey points out, they are paying a lot more as they are burning through tires, clutches and fuel.
“We sent out an email to the club inviting drivers, and the next day we had 25 participants,” Ockey says of the group’s support of the event.
“A lot of the kids are really quiet, just because of the place they’ve come from,” Ockey says. “So we start off slow — it’s pretty freaky coming into turn one and slowing down from 220 to 100 (km/h). So we’ll talk to them about how they’re feeling, and just try to get them to open up at the same time if they will.”
On Sept. 13 at 9 a.m. everybody gets breakfast, and then lapping starts at 9:30 and runs until noon. According to Ockey, the public is welcome at the track during the Ride of a Lifetime.

Story first published in the Calgary Herald’s section Sept. 12, 2008.

Calgary Herald, 2008 Can-Am Spyder Roadster People’s Test Ride, by Greg Williams

All images in this post courtesy BRP.

Can-Am’s new Spyder Roadster is revolutionary and evolutionary.
The three-wheeler is revolutionary because nothing like it has been mass-produced, and this machine should bring a whole new breed of rider to the open road. It’s evolutionary in the sense that the Spyder can trace its DNA to other Bombardier products such as Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo.
And that’s exactly what Can-Am planned.
According to Philippe Normand, marketing manager for Can-Am Spyder, the initial idea for the Spyder was hatched 10 years ago.
“Ski-Doo was in the snow, Sea-Doo was in the water, and Can-Am (ATVs) were in the dirt,” Normand says. “We needed to be on the road, that’s where the biggest market is.”
And to get Can-Am on the road Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP is Can-Am’s parent company) set a number of vehicle design requirements. Whatever was drawn and ultimately created had to offer performance, and peace of mind — just like BRP’s sleds, watercraft and ATVs. The company didn’t have to look far. Drawing from their sleds (two skis out front and a single track out back), their watercraft (seating position, bodywork) and their ATVs (ease of use), the company came up with the Spyder Roadster.
The Spyder is definitely unique. There are two 14×5″ car-sized wheels up front, and a single large 15×7″ wheel out back. The front wheels ride on double A-arm suspension, while the rear wheel is mounted in a swingarm with a monoshock. Those suspension components connect to a SST (Surrounding Spar Technology) frame. The frame is made of steel, and a backbone and a belly beam wrap around the V-twin engine that sits just aft of the front wheels. BRP’s Rotax 998 c.c. V-twin engine produces 106 horsepower, and that’s transmitted to the rear wheel through either a manual five-speed gearbox, or an automatic five-speed. Final drive is via belt.

But what’s it like to ride?
That’s what Calgarian Paul Frenette, 52, wanted to know. He asked the Herald about getting on board a Spyder for a People’s Test Ride, and we managed to get him a few hours in the saddle. He rode the machine into Kananaskis Country, trying out a variety of roads in perfect riding weather.
“It’s very, very fast and powerful,” Frenette says. “Its acceleration is incredible — it pushes your eyeballs to the back of your head. It could get away quick on you, and like any motorcycle it demands your respect.”
But with its two wheels forward architecture the Spyder is inherently stable, and Can-Am has outfitted the vehicle with numerous electronic control units connected to systems designed to keep all three wheels on the pavement. It has, for example, Electronic Brake Distribution, Anti-lock Braking System, Vehicle Stability System, Traction Control System, Stability Control System with Roll Over Mitigation and Dynamic Power Steering.

Frenette has held his motorcycle licence since he was 14 years old. He bought a Honda CT70 brand new for $428 in his home province of New Brunswick, and for the most part ever since he hasn’t been without a two-wheeler. He enjoys touring aboard a motorcycle, and has owned Honda Gold Wings and CB1000s. His last ride was a Honda ST1100, and he is currently looking at a Honda ST1300.
His style of riding is 1,400-plus kilometre days, logging 12 to 14 hours at a time.
“The whole idea of a motorcycle is the freedom to lean into corners and not have a lot of bulk around you,” Frenette says of his motorcycling passion.
Here’s what Frenette thought of the Spyder on the road.
“It’s extremely easy to manoeuvre, with variable power assisted steering. The result is a ‘motorcycle’ that you steer (vs. lean) into corners. You can slide your weight (centre of gravity) and help the cornering process if you wish but it’s not required,” he says.
“Straight line stability in my 100 kilometre drive to Kananaskis Country showed me the Spyder is extremely stable at any speed and the ride is amazingly settled and smooth. Bumps are easily absorbed and do not deflect the bike from its path. Side winds don’t affect its track at all.”
Frenette says the three car-size tires put a sizable contact patch on the road, and he quickly grew comfortable with the width of the two front wheels (1,308 mm).
“It doesn’t seem as big when you’re driving it, and a reverse gear means easy manoeuvring out of tight spaces, too,” he says.
He says the machine looks modern and oh-so very 21 st century with its unique stance, colours (it comes in silver; yellow and red are optional), and its swooping and aerodynamic bodywork. Frenette says the saddle was extremely comfortable, and everything fell to hand. The handlebars are set up much like a motorcycle, with the notable exception that there is no front brake lever on the right hand side. On the manual Spyder a hand clutch/foot shift arrangement is on the left, and a right foot pedal operates front and rear disc brakes.
But what Frenette wasn’t prepared to give up was the freedom to lean into a corner. For him, that’s the whole motorcycling experience, and he doesn’t think the Spyder will displace the traditional motorcycle.
However, he says Can-Am has opened up a whole new niche, one that will allow people with limited ability or a fear of two wheels to get out and enjoy the ‘essence’ of motorcycling.
“There’s a charisma to a bike and its power, and it comes down to the fresh air smell as you travel through the countryside in a different realm. You’re seeing (the road from a different perspective) and you’re smelling the road,” Frenette says.
And that’s what Can-Am hoped to capture. Can-Am’s Normand says: “We think the Spyder will democratize the open road. It offers the open-air concept of a motorcycle, with the peace of mind of a sports car and stability at rest.
“(The car and motorcycle industry) is a mature market with brands that are solid,” Normand says. “We wanted to build something unique, and completely different, and make a name for ourselves.”

Engine: 998cc V-twin DOHC 4 valves per cylinder
Horsepower: 106 @ 8,500 r.p.m.
Torque: 77 lb.-ft. @ 6,250 r.p.m.
Wheelbase: 1,727 mm
Overall length: 2,667 mm
Dry vehicle weight: 316 kg
Base price: $18,499 (SM5), $19,999 (SE5) plus $400 for yellow or red colour
Price as tested: $18,899

-After 38 years of motorcycling experience I thought I had seen it all in the two-wheeled industry — and then along comes a Spyder, a three-wheeled motorcycle like nothing else on the roads today!
-The Spyder is a trike with the single rear drive wheel (belt drive) and two steering wheels up front. You may have seen motorcycle trikes on the road, with two wheels at the rear driving and the front regular steering wheel, but these units are mostly custom built and much more costly than the Spyder.
-With the low windshield height, I found 95 km/h to be the ‘groove’ or comfort zone of the Spyder, and I’m sure fuel economy was excellent at that speed. Besides it allows you to enjoy the scenery more too. Vibration on the handlebars was always present, and at higher speeds (120 km/h) the tiny rear view mirrors were showing you only fuzzy shapes. The angle of the rear view mirrors needs to be increased as my view was mostly blocked by my arms if I wanted to see what was directly behind me.
-At highway speeds, the bulk of the wind blast goes over the top of your helmet and a smaller blast hits you on the chest, nice on a warm day but it could be a problem in colder weather. In (the) city and short trips, the wind is bearable but a long trip would cause me to look for a much taller aftermarket windshield.
-Heat pouring off the engine wasn’t a problem that I feared it could be, with adequate venting away from the riders legs. Interestingly, lawyers have shown up on the design of the bike to inject their collective ‘wisdom’, with a partially hidden single function override button needing to be pressed whenever you start the bike to acknowledge you have read the safety warnings in a pull out tab above the instrument cluster that contains all the warning labels and more. Otherwise warning labels would adorn the bike and it would look terrible so this is a small consolation to press the button every time you start your Spyder.
-The bike features a front locking ‘trunk’ large enough for the storage of a single helmet or a week’s worth of carefully packed luggage for the driver.
-Rotax builds magnificent motors and this one is the true heart of the bike! 106 horsepower out of 1.0-litre and the locomotive-type endless power pulls you along in almost any gear. Passing is a breeze and fearless! After having ridden many 2, 4 and 6 cylinder bikes, this twin is unlike any previous twin I have ridden, a most impressive powerplant.
-So would I plunk down $18,500 plus tax for the Spyder? I’m not sure at this time –I hear they are working on a touring model and if it addresses the vibration in the handlebars and the wind blast, I may consider one. But I do enjoy the freedom to lean into corners on a ‘regular’ motorcycle, done almost by instinct with little input required vs. the need to push/pull the handlebars to steer the Spyder (and thus requiring constant attention).
-I believe the true ‘grand slam’ of this recreational product is the fact that it will attract many more people to motorcycling, including people with limited or reduced mobility (especially with the anticipated automatic model).
-Ride safely!

Calgary high school teacher Debbie Noesgaard has been riding a motorcycle for almost a decade. Her machine of choice (prior to the Can-Am Spyder) was a 1995 Triumph Thunderbird 900. Her Triumph now sits forlornly in the garage since she took delivery of her yellow 2008 Can-Am Spyder from Bow Cycle in April this year. She’s logged 2,300 km so far.

Q: Why the Can-Am Spyder?
A: I took one on the Awareness Ride last year (2007), and was able to take one out again in June over the Highwood Pass. I knew then I wanted one. It handled beautifully in the city, and beautifully on the highway. There was some bad weather with hail and pooling water in the Pass, and on the Triumph I would have been nervous. But on the Spyder, I was fine.

Q: What’s your opinion of the ride?
A: It’s a different ride but it’s an active ride — it’s like riding a Sea-Doo or a snow machine, only on pavement. And I really like that feel, you still need to lean, but you shift your weight differently on this than you do on a bike. The steering feels quite a bit different, and you might think you need quite a bit of upper body strength to handle it, but it’s not too bad. There is quite a windblast with the low windshield — in the city you don’t notice it but on the highway at speed you feel it — you’ll want a full-face helmet.

Q: How does the public react to the machine?
A: I belong to the SpokesSisters (a local all-female motorcycle group dedicated to raising awareness about and funds for breast cancer) and we took a run up to Jasper. A lot of the girls have brand new Harley-Davidsons, but just about any time we stopped the first bike anybody came up to was mine. That was fun; I like the novelty of it. I’ve been commuting to school on it because I can carry all my stuff, and when I first took it to school a student came up to me and said “I’m totally going to have to change my opinion of who you are.” I think that was one of the funniest comments I’ve heard.

First published in the Calgary Herald Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.

Calgary Herald, Smart Car celebrates its 10th anniversary, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz Canada

When Mercedes-Benz designed the Smart car chances are good it wasn?t thinking it would be a high-mileage freeway cruiser.
Or, that it would be towing a light-duty trailer on a regular basis.
They obviously hadn?t heard of Les McDonald, a Cochrane-based Smart car owner. This micro-car devotee has put 150,000 km on his Smart ForTwo, driving to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico once, to the Maritimes twice, and Vancouver three times.
?This car can do a lot more than people think it can,? McDonald says of the Smart car?s utility factor. ?With a Clever End (it expands the car?s carrying capacity) and a hitch, there?s just a world of things you can do.?
He figures he?s towed a trailer for more than 110,000 km, confidently pulling up to 275 kg.
This year, the little vehicle that obviously could, and that has transformed the world?s roads is celebrating 10 years of production.
On July 2, 1998, the first Smart car rolled off the assembly line at Smartville ? the nickname for the car?s factory in Hambach, France.
The pint-sized vehicle drove onto roadways throughout Europe, and arrived in Canada in 2004. In early 2008 the Smart car came to the U.S.
Right now, more than 900,000 Smart cars are on the road in 37 countries.
However, the initial idea for the Smart goes back to 1972.

Mercedes-Benz created a concept in 1972 for a small car that the company thought would meet driver demands in the year 2000.
On paper, the vehicle was a 2.5-metre long two-seater ? very similar to today?s Smart car. Test mules were fabricated to show that a micro car could be a viable transportation choice.
But the project was held back due to safety concerns. At the time, it wasn?t clear how such a small car could be engineered to meet the strict safety requirements inherent in the Mercedes-Benz brand. But the company didn?t give up. In 1981, Mercedes-Benz developed a concept vehicle dubbed NAFA, the ?Nahverkehrsfahrzeug?, or Local Traffic Vehicle. A prototype was made, but again, the project was put on the back burner. While the NAFA took into consideration safety with rigid side impact protection and ?controlled deformation body components? there just wasn?t a market for a micro car.
And then in the late 1980s the California Clean Air Act was announced. The act stipulated that by 2002 at least 10 per cent of every major automaker?s cars sold in the state would have to be Zero Emissions Vehicles.
This spurred Mercedes-Benz to work on the MCC, or Micro Compact Car, and the company set up a design studio in Irvine, Calif. The design team worked in the community as well as in the studio, studying urban mobility issues as they attempted to sketch a pleasing design for the two-seater. Prototypes ? the Eco Sprinter and Eco Speedster — were built in 1993.
Enter Nicolas G. Hayek, the man responsible for the Swatch watch. He wanted to revolutionize the auto industry with a car fit for an urban market, and Hayek figured he could apply his Swatch watch making concepts to car manufacturing.
In 1994 Micro Compact Car AG was established as a joint venture between Daimler-Benz AG (51 per cent share) and the Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watch Making Industries Ltd. (49 per cent share). The car needed a name, and it was derived from Swatch Mercedes Art ? or Smart.
Propulsion was an issue, and electric, hybrid, gas and diesel power were all considered. In the end, gas/diesel variants won out, and the Smart car was shown at numerous venues in 1995 and 1996. In 1997, Daimler-Benz bought out Hayek?s shares of MCC, and the Smart car was shown at the Frankfurt International Automobile Show.
The Smart measured in at 2.5 m long, 1.51 m wide and 1.52 m tall. A three-cylinder gas engine sat in the back of the car, and safety was assured through the Tridion safety cell together with front and rear crush zones and modern restraint systems. The body consisted, and still consists, of dyed thermoplastic panels, including a front and rear clip and doors.
The first Smart cars were sold in October 1998. In 1999 a direct-injection diesel engine found its way into the vehicle ? and this was the engine powering the Smart when it debuted in Canada in 2004.

Canadian Introduction
JoAnne Caza, director of communications and public relations for Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc., recalls the days before the Smart car came to this country.
?In Canada, customers were calling us, saying they saw the car in Europe and wondered if we were going to be bringing them over here,? she says.
Mercedes-Benz Canada brought over five Smart ForTwos in 2001 and had the motoring press drive the cars. Reaction was favourable, so Mercedes-Benz applied decals to the Smart cars with a sign that said Curious? Included was a website address. The cars were driven in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver ? and the website, which featured a short questionnaire — was inundated with hits.
?We asked very basic questions, such as what do you think of the look, is it a viable proposition for Canadians, how much would you pay for it,? Caza says. ?Turns out, Canada was dying for this car.?
Mercedes-Benz worked with Transport Canada, and got the go ahead to import the vehicle in February 2004.
?We all thought these would be a sensation in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver,? Caza says of consumer response. ?But more than 50 per cent of our sales are in secondary and tertiary markets ? places like Saskatoon, Regina, Lethbridge, Chicoutimi. We?ve even got a car in Labrador.?
Canada got the Smart car when it was more than halfway through the lifespan of its first generation. Second generation Smarts were launched in December 2007 as 2008 models.
While Smart had launched a few other models in Europe, including ForFour and Roadster and Roadster Coupe, they never came to Canada. Production of those other models didn?t last long as Smart cancelled them and returned its attention to the ForTwo.
Second generation Smart ForTwo (or model 451) cars are now powered by a lightweight, all aluminum 1.0-litre three-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 70 horsepower and returns 5.4-L/100km city and highway combined fuel economy. Transmission is a five-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Smart gained a little girth in the redesign, but not much. The car now measures 2.695 m long, 1.559 m wide and 1.542 m tall. In Canada, the Smart ForTwo comes in Pure or Passion models, as well as the Cabriolet.

Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz Canada

Smart in Calgary
A Smart ForTwo was shown at the 2004 Calgary International Auto and Truck Show where the car captured its share of attention. Some people were ready to buy the minute they saw the Smart sitting in the Roundup Centre. However, the local Mercedes-Benz dealers didn?t have any product until later that year.
?People had to put down a deposit, and then it was hurry up and wait,? says John Sweeney, general manager at Lone Star Mercedes-Benz. ?We filled orders as we could get the cars.?
Lone Star Mercedes-Benz sold 200 Smarts in the first year ? making them runner-up for largest volume Smart retailer in Canada.
?Amazing when you think that here we are in the middle of horsepower country, and we (don?t seem to be) as concerned about fuel economy,? Sweeney says. ?But the cars are funky and unique, and whenever I drove one people would point, wave and cheer. It was such a unique reaction; one I?d never seen before to an automotive product.?
Both Caza and Sweeney agree there is no set demographic for the Smart buyer ? it?s all over the map. All ages, income levels and professions — there?s no stereotypical buyer. And the Smart is moving beyond the urban centre; Lone Star has buyers in rural areas such as McGrath, Tilley, Hanna, Banff and Canmore.

Photo courtesy Les McDonald, Smart Car Universe
It?s a Smart Car Universe
There are now, of course, a large number of aftermarket goodies available for the Smart car. Leading the charge in Canada is Smart Car Universe, operated by Cochrane Smart car devotee himself, Les McDonald. He bought his Smart car more than three years ago to replace a Dodge Dakota V8 pickup truck and started looking for accessories. He ended up importing a rear body extension from Germany called the Clever End that replaces the rear hatch.
He then designed his own trailer hitch to tow a light-duty trailer to carry a canoe or a couple of mountain bikes. McDonald went into production with the hitch, which is made in Calgary.
His company, a web-based store,, now sells the Clever End and hitches for both first and second-generation Smart cars. And with the U.S. market open to him, McDonald is able to work with more suppliers and obtain parts, such as wheels, body modification kits, exterior racks, trailers and storage solutions.
McDonald?s market in Canada is largely Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. The hot spots in the U.S. are California and Florida.

Photo courtesy Les McDonald, Smart Car Universe

He loves his Smart car
Twenty-seven year old Mike West works at a major GM dealership in Calgary. In April 2007 he rented a Smart car ? by August he owned one. And in May 2008 he bought a brand new second-generation Smart ForTwo. He?s put 6,000 kilometres on the odometer.
?The car comes with all kinds of bells and whistles, and I get 40 mpg,? West says. ?I paid $19,800 for the ForTwo Passion, with MP3 jack, six disc CD, heated seats, tire pressure monitor, shift paddles?it?s loaded.?
West says the car promotes a healthier lifestyle as the tiny Smart dictates living with two seats and a small trunk.
?You end up possibly walking more, taking the bus, or car pooling with friends if we?re all going somewhere together,? West says. He encourages those interested in the Smart to visit

Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz Canada

First published in the Calgary Herald,, August 1, 2008

Calgary Herald, Mad Jap Kustoms High Noon Fundraiser, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Chad Murphy: Dale Yamada of Mad Jap Kustoms with two of his hand-built machines.

The motorcycle and hotrod community in Calgary is rallying support for Dale Yamada, a retired motorcycle racer and active custom bike builder.
A fundraiser dubbed High Noon is being held for Yamada and his wife, Michelle, and their two young children. The event, to be held at the Car Crazy warehouse and parking lot is scheduled for noon on Aug. 10. High Noon will offer an all makes and models (cars and motorcycles) show and shine, entertainment with bands such as Crossfire, The Hard Tails and Thunderwood, a silent auction and door prizes.
Yamada, 42, was seriously injured the evening of June 18 in a motorcycle/vehicle collision downtown at 8 St. and 5 Ave. S.W. He had just attended bike night at the A&W in Airdrie, and had made his way back to Calgary to visit the hotrods at another A&W, this one at the corner of Macleod Tr. and Glenmore Tr.
He was heading home northwest to Hidden Valley via the downtown core when he tangled with the front end of a car.
“I remember the hit, how I flew, everything,” Yamada says during an interview from his hospital bed at the Carewest Glenmore Park facility. “I remember hearing the fire truck and the ambulance coming, and seeing all of the feet and people around me. And I remember seeing the damage to myself and feeling the pain — I was screaming. I’d never felt pain like that before in my life.”
Yamada broke his pelvis in four places, his lower vertebrae (L 5 and 6), and there were multiple compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula. He also suffered serious internal injuries.
One year ago, Yamada started his custom bike building business, Mad Jap Kustoms (
“The business is named after my (late) dad,” Yamada says of his company. “All of his friends used to call him the Mad Jap. (When I started) I didn’t know what to call the business, and the name just came out of the blue as a way to honour my dad. I didn’t really care what people thought of the name.”
Yamada was born in Nanaimo, and raised in the Lower Mainland. As a youth he was around custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but never had his own bike until 1996. At that, the bike was as far away from a Milwaukee made V-twin as it could have been. Yamada, a licensed mechanic, was managing a brake and muffler shop when he splashed out cash on a 1991 Suzuki GSXR 750 sport bike.
“I bought all my helmet and all my gear at the same time I bought the bike,” Yamada says. “I rode it out of the dealership with all of the price tags still on all my stuff.
I was so severely hooked. I said this is my life.”
He’d fearlessly raced BMX and mountain bikes, and had played with cars and 4x4s, but motorcycles really ignited something in Yamada.
“At the first set of lights (after riding out of the dealership), a guy on a red Honda CBR900RR nodded at me and said ‘nice bike’. When the light turned green he took off and did a stand up wheelie.”
Of course, Yamada was so impressed he said he had to learn how to pull the same stunt.
“I started learning at the next light,” he laughs. Yamada rode hard on the street, and crashed more than once. He admits he was out of control, and it was a mechanic at a dealership who told him to get off the street and onto a track. With that, he bought a 1996 Suzuki GSXR 750, taped up the headlight, removed the signal lights, and went to Portland, Oregon to participate in his first ‘beginners’ race.
“I remember being nervous, and I’d crashed during practice,” Yamada says. “And my friends were there telling me to stop looking down — look ahead; that’s how green I was.”
Yet, with 40 other racers, Yamada lapped the field and finished first. “I’d just pinned it and passed everything I could pass.”
Yamada went on to quite a career as a privateer racer, participating in club events. That’s what brought him and Michelle to Calgary in 1997. His life was working and racing, until 2004 when there was pressure to move up to the Nationals.
“I said I couldn’t do it. We’d started our family, and I’d started a new business,” Yamada says. He’d begun PDQ Hot Shot services, but sold that and quite a few of his toys to fund the start up of Mad Jap Kustoms in 2007. An accomplished mechanic and tuner, Yamada had never built a custom motorcycle until just last summer. His first build was based on the choppers he remembers from his youth, but with a creative twist thrown in the mix. Yamada’s bikes, when shown at the King of Customs motorcycle show in Calgary in May, captured the eye of Jesse James of West Coast Choppers — and that’s quite a nod to the novice builder.
Ironically, he doesn’t build bikes using Japanese motors or components; they’re all American v-twin engines in his own frames. He does all of his own welding, machining and painting. The only parts sent out of his shop are items for chrome plating.
After the accident, Yamada wasn’t sure if he’d be able to keep his lower left leg. So far, he’s been progressing and beating a lot of the odds.
In the meantime, he says he’ll move up, forward and on.
“I’ve had a lot of time to just think,” Yamada says of his days in the hospital. “I’m building bikes in my head for now until I get back to the shop.”
He has orders, and one bike on the bench that’s about 90 per cent complete. But he can’t finish it yet, and without him working there’s no money being earned.
So his friends have put in motion High Noon.
Jay Ringland, owner of Dolce Salon in Market Mall, says of the event: “We’ve got to do something to help get his family through the next year.” Ringland also owns the first custom bike built by Yamada.
High Noon is at Car Crazy, 4303 9 St. S.E., from noon until 6 p.m. on Aug. 10. All vehicle entries are welcome by donation, and the event is free to the public. Silent auction items include artwork donated by Artists of the World, tattooist Rick Wilson of Strange World and airbrush artist Crosseyed. Email, or phone 403-815-6548 for more information.

Photo courtesy Chad Murphy: Dale Yamada of Mad Jap Kustoms.

First published in the Calgary Herald Driving section, July 18.

Calgary Herald, Malcolm Bricklin Set to Revolutionize Auto Industry? by Greg Williams

Malcolm Bricklin says the auto industry is in the middle of a perfect storm.
Fuel prices are at unprecedented levels, and environmental issues are always pressing.
So Bricklin, he of Bricklin SV-1 sports car fame and now CEO of Visionary Vehicles (, has called to action the Detroit automakers. He thinks together they can help move the electric vehicle industry ahead — and produce cars and trucks that achieve 100 mpg (4 L/160km). He’d like to see the automakers dedicate 20 per cent of their manufacturing capacity to electric vehicle production by 2012, and increase that to 80 per cent by 2020.
“Our economy, consumers, and the auto industry are being held hostage by $4 gas,” says Bricklin in an interview from his New York office. “It’s killing everybody, including airlines. Consumers with large vehicles can’t trade or sell an SUV, and it’s a ripple effect all the way down the line.”
Bricklin adds that people are driving less, and agrees that that’s not a bad thing.
He continues: “But from desperation, should come inspiration. Our industry needs a collaborative approach that allows new entrants, like Visionary Vehicles, to work with established OEMs to open idled factories, share new technologies, grow U.S. automotive jobs and deliver 100 mpg vehicles to consumers.”
Bricklin started Visionary Vehicles to design and engineer ‘green’ vehicles. And he’s convinced that electric cars, either plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) or pure electric vehicles (EVs) are the answer. He’s aware that there exist a number of companies and engineers creating their own PHEVs and EVs. Where Bricklin thinks the entire electric vehicle industry would benefit is in the use of common components.
Bricklin believes buying components such as batteries and motors and controllers in large quantities and sharing the parts with other electric vehicle makers will help bring down the end cost to the manufacturer. And, the savings would be passed on to the consumer. For his first Visionary Vehicle, Bricklin plans on introducing for the model year 2011 a luxury sedan that will achieve 100 mpg and retail for close to $40,000.
“I believe that by working together we can move America quickly into greater independence from foreign oil, while preserving U.S. automotive jobs and revitalizing the industry,” Bricklin says. “The U.S. auto industry can and should take an economic and environmental leadership position.”
He’s talking about using North American auto factories that have been mothballed to help build not only his own EVs, but those of other designers as well.
“There are over 40 closed factories in the U.S., and that’s a lot of United Auto Workers out of jobs,” Bricklin says. “In desperate times people are willing to listen to inspiration,” he says of his plan to literally regenerate the auto industry.
“All of the Detroit makers know how to make good cars, they’re just not the right kind of cars,” Bricklin says. “They’ve got a big investment in engines and transmissions that are wrong for today’s market.

‘Toyota proved with the Prius that people wanted cars with increased (fuel economy).”
According to the website, consumers are interested in taking action on fuel efficiency — and that there is a serious need for economical transportation.
Bricklin believes new electric vehicles should all share the same components. And that’s a mind shift.
“For the first time, a consumer isn’t going to care what’s under the hood — as long as it gets 100 mpg,” he says. Wouldn’t that make for a bland auto world?
Not so, Bricklin maintains. It would be up to the automaker how many electric motors went in their car, allowing for more or less horsepower. And, each car would definitely have its own style, with a distinct body and interior unique to the maker.
All of the vehicles produced would be retailed through a dealer network that consists of 250 stores, plus 25 in Canada.
The network would be EV specific, and would not only sell his luxury car, but also sell vehicles from other makers to help fill every segment. Bricklin is not, for example, planning on building his own plug-in electric SUV or sports car.
“Our strategy is simple: incorporate new technologies and components purchased at high volume discounts that will enable us to deliver 100 mpg at a price point consumers can afford,” Bricklin says. “And I believe if we don’t work together (automakers) are going to get decimated singly. It’s a perfect storm out there.”

First published in the Calgary Herald section, July 11, 2008.

There is a Canadian connection to this story. Bricklin will be sourcing his batteries from Electrovoya, an Ontario-based company. Read a news release here.