We met Jory Squibb way back in late 2006 over at the Santa Monica Alt Car Expo. How can you miss a guy driving a tiny, 100+mpg bubble car called the Moonbeam? Jory, from Maine, is now back on the ABG radar with his presence at the New York Auto Show. He didn't have a car with him this time, but he did have the idea for a competition vehicle for the Automotive X Prize with him. His new tadpole-style vehicle (that is, two wheels in front, one in back) is called Dirigo, which is the Maine state motto and means "I lead" of "I direct." The Dirigo's powertrain is based on a 950cc Daihatsu turbodiesel engine that sits in the back and drives the front two wheels. Jory told us the Moonbeam taught him that you really need at least half of your wheels providing power (the Moonbeam was also tadpole style, but only driven by the single rear wheel). Jory's team for the Dirigo, which is now a year old, is made up of about four regular members, some of whom are boat builders and are taking the Dirigo in a wooden direction. Learn more by listening to Jory yourself:
UPDATE: Jory sent in a few thoughts on the Auto X Prize at the New York Auto Show. We've pasted his essay after the jump.
Thoughts from Jory Squibb (edited slightly for clarity):
I probably don't have to tell you how depressing it is to go to an auto show. If your heart and brain circuits are working; if you see the planetary burner is on 'medium well done'; if you notice that our cities are reaching gridlock; and luxury-based decisions about driving heavy, powerful vehicles to the nearby mall--then you will wonder as you wander thru the la-la land of an autoshow: WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?
Where is cranky, contrarian Henry Ford when we need him? As the autocrat of a family-owned business, he was free to cut prices even when he already had a massive market share. He could raise wages even when workers were clamoring to work for him. I imagine that at least he would have had the guts in this clear situation, to go out on a limb.
Not so the 20 or so companies we saw in New York: Model after model with the same old gas economy, same styling, same complexity. These big corporations seemed to scrutinize their competitors, examine the bottom line for each of their models, and plod ahead like blind drones.
Yet it was appropriate for the AXP to launch itself against that mindless backdrop, to propose its by-pass surgery on location, right at the clogged coronary artery of the industry.
Two members of our team grabbed some brag photos, rooted around for some 'business attire', and purred down to NYC in the volksy TDI at 50 MPG.
I needed three things: to size up the AXP which I had had only telephone and email contact with; to see those four cars on display and get excited about some solid engineering ahead; and to talk with the 10 or so other competitors and steal any idea faintly useful.
The AXP was right there when you went entered the autoshow. Chairs were set up, multimedia blinked on a massive screen, lights played on a canvas roof--absolutely first class.
At exactly 1PM we had speeches, including the CEO of Progressive Insurance who will sponsor the AXP; and the Mayor of NYC who is obviously an unusually thoughtful person. I got to meet Neal and Bethann, both of whom I have always been impressed with.
Then they unveiled the four cars, which frankly, were pretty shabby. I better explain.
First, I'm not speaking from high altitude: Our own entry, Dirigo, is merely a rolling chassis right now, getting a body, and represents components of ho-hum technology, which have simply not been assembled this way before. Here is a 1000 lb, 3 wheel, rear engine, front wheel drive, small turbo diesel. No rocket science. Plug in the numbers. You'll get 80-100 MPG, and maybe suffer a little from bells- and-whistles withdrawal.
Should I go thru each of the four cars, detailing my disappointment? Well, in brief, there was the totally clunky air-propulsion car. I've scanned their website. I talked with their rep at the launch. It just doesn't add up.
There was a fiberglass replica of the Venture1, which, as such things do, drew no attention. Here is a wonderful design which, alas, will be recognized by everyone as an enclosed motorcycle. As such, it will draw its own excited but limited following. I have dialogued thoroughly with the blog on their website: Can a trike-style three- wheeler, even if tilting, be safe in extreme braking? The jury is still out... perhaps.
There was a heart warming but frankly ho-hum kit-car-to-electric conversion by an inner city high school. Great for AXP PR.
And finally there was fuel-vapor's lovely third prototype. This held the most promise for me, but, reading between the lines, the technology break-through doesn't seem to be happening. This is just an eco-rodded Honda Civic. And, even sadder, the team is going the Tesla route: a small production, high price toy for the rich. Please, someone, squirt me a hypodermic of excitement. What is the point of high-MPG in a niche like that?
- AXP = A+
- 4 vehicles = C-
The next morning I got up early, staying on the upper West Side, to take one of my favorite little walks in Central Park. I was as depressed as I ever get: Jeesum! Any one of those 20 fat auto conglomerates could wow the AXP without breathing hard. Grab components off the shelf. Set aside a few engineers and such. Why, why, why?
I saw a church on Central Park West with a Bible verse on a big banner in front. Something like, "We walk by Faith, not by Sight."
And that shifted it for me, at least a little. It's hard to walk ahead by what I saw yesterday. Cynicism nips at my heels. But faith, some sort of rooted confidence, enjoyment, well...faithfulness. This thing is going to work out, and it'll fun to be a part of it. An hour later the hood ornament was pointing to Maine.
[Source: Jory Squibb]