Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

ITS Getting Funny Now

This week brings the 2014 World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems. The “intelligent systems” in question? Cars!

Meanwhile, as they try ever more elaborate tricks to perpetuate the suicidal but necessary-to-capitalists cars-first transportation order of the United States, the challenges and costs are predictably piling up.

captain_renault As reported by Automotive News, here’s what they’re learning — and like Captain Renault, they are shocked — about the realities of robot cars:

Stepper said once the technology is perfected, proving that it works perfectly and safely in every driving situation will be a massive challenge. Said Stepper: “The validation will have to be that your system will not have one single failure.”

Dellenback compared the cost of developing the software to control self-driving cars to that of writing software for a manned space flight.

He said, “The cost of each line of software is incredible.”

Oh, yes, there’s this, too: Robot cars don’t work in the rain or snow!

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Lemon Update

Actual use of Tesla’s $90,000 jalopy has apparently changed Consumer Reports‘ views.  Per Automotive News:

Consumer Reports, which last year gave top marks to electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc.’s Model S sedan, now says the car it owns has had “more than its share of problems.”

Consumer Reports, which anonymously buys the vehicles it tests from auto dealerships, said Monday the Model S it owns now has traveled nearly 16,000 miles. Its 2013 Model S was purchased for $89,650 in January of that year.

“Just before the car went in for its annual service, at a little over 12,000 miles, the center screen went blank, eliminating access to just about every function of the car,” the magazine said in its statement.

Tesla fixed the issues on the magazine’s Model S under warranty. The repairs included a “hard reset” to restore the car’s functions after its center screen went blank and problems with the automatic retracting door handles, which were occasionally reluctant to emerge.

CR isn’t the only one:

The issues highlighted by Consumer Reports follow a report by Edmunds.com, an automotive data and pricing company in Santa Monica, Calif. It reported problems last month with its Model S that included replacing the main battery pack after incidents in which the car stalled; a frozen touchscreen; a creaky steering wheel and difficulties opening the car’s sunroof.

As always, Elon Musk responds to these reports like the petulant six-year-old who just broke the family lamp:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said last month the company continues to review customer reports to ensure all known flaws with the car are fixed.

“We definitely had some quality issues in the beginning for the early serial number cars, because we were just basically figuring out how to make the Model S. I think we’ve addressed almost all of those for current production cars,” Musk told analysts on a July 31 conference call. “Every week I have a product excellence meeting which is a cross-functional group, so we’ve got engineering, service and production and we go over all the issues that customers are reporting with the car and the action items that have to be addressed to get the car ultimately to the platonic ideal of the perfect car.”

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DbC recently saw a sign that it endorses, in Berkeley’s People’s Park. Click for larger version. Copyleft restrictions only:

peoples-park-image

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“As the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new technology that makes driving safer is important to me,” he said.

Driving, inherently massively dangerous, remains beyond question, even against such a supposedly sacred standard.

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American Transportation

Taking a cue from R.J. Reynolds’ Joe Camel, Ford starts ‘em early. It’s forthcoming $349 toy truck “can carry two passengers with a combined weight of up to 130 pounds, runs on a 12-volt battery, can drive off-sidewalk on wet grass and gravel, and comes with an MP3 jack and FM radio. The Extreme Sport version comes with LED headlamps that mimic those of the larger 2015 F-150.”

The accompanying promotional photo could hardly be an apter depiction of the essential childishness of our cars-first transportation order:

kiddie-car

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googdevil Google has announced it is working on a driverless car.  As usual, mainstream journalists, always breathless and brainless about “tech” stories, are reporting on the project as if it is somehow a portent of major change in our wildly expensive and unsustainable transportation order.  Google co-founder Sergey Brin, naturally, eggs them on, speaking of the project as if it’s somehow “in keeping with our mission of being transformative.”

The reality?  As reported by Automotive News, GCars “will be electronically limited to 25 mph and will never go on highways.  They will be designed as ‘neighborhood’ vehicles.”

In other words, GCars, if they are ever actually viable, will be GTaxis. As such, they will be taking riders away from existing, driver-employing public transit systems and taxi businesses, as well as further stymieing cyclists and pedestrians in the nation’s most walkable and rideable places.

Not quite transformative, is it?

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warpeace “The mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.”

Of course, in market-totalitarian America, “America” means corporate capitalists. Hence, we find the U.S. Energy Secretary out pimping for extension of the reign of human history’s most wasteful lifeblood-to-a–ruling-system product. As reported by Automotive News:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Energy wants auto suppliers to know that it still has $16 billion in low-interest financing available to support efficient-vehicle programs, and it wants them to step forward for a share of those funds. The department’s lending authority comes under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which Congress created in 2007. Early in the Obama administration, the Department of Energy used the program to lend about $8.4 billion to Ford, Nissan, Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive. Suppliers were always eligible, but none secured funding. Now, under Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the program is being overhauled to make it easier to fund production of technologies such as lightweight materials, efficient engines and low-friction tires.

The changes that Moniz announced today include legal clarifications to show that suppliers are eligible for the program, a promise to respond more quickly to applicants and the creation of a new online application portal.

Moniz announced the program changes on Wednesday during a speech to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, or MEMA, a trade group representing auto suppliers.

Today we are presented with an opportunity to hit the accelerator on U.S. auto manufacturing growth,” Moniz said.

To restate: In the year 2014, the person in charge of solving the nation’s energy challenges is bragging about “hitting the accelerator” on making automobiles.

Orwell was an amateur.

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Differential Danger

Per the WHO, via Harper’s magazine:

Number of deaths in traffic accidents for every 100,000 vehicles on the road in developed nations : 11

In Ethiopia : 3,865

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Usury and Upselling at Dealerships

usury Automotive News reports on an important advance in business practices within corporate capitalism’s auto-industrial complex:

Service orders and profit have jumped at Garber Buick in Saginaw, Mich., since the store started offering credit-card applications and interest-free credit to cash-strapped customers.

When a service customer declines suggested repairs or maintenance beyond the reason for the visit, a store representative sits down with the customer to explain financing options, said Bobbie Herron, director of digital sales and marketing for Garber Automotive Group’s four Michigan stores.

If affordability is the problem, and often it is, the dealership offers to help the customer fill out a GE Capital credit card application. The financial services company often accepts or rejects the application within minutes, Herron said.

If the application is rejected, Garber Buick has arranged with CrossCheck Inc., a provider of check approval and guarantee services, to guarantee as much as $4,000 in repairs interest-free so long as the customer can pay the balance by check in a month, Herron said. The plan requires 25 percent of the bill to be paid upfront and the remainder paid within 30 days.

“It’s work that would have been denied because our customers didn’t have the funds,” she said.

Auto News doesn’t report what percentage of people who don’t have the cash to pay for car repairs and are rejected for a new credit card are typically able to pay off their new CrossCheck tab within 30 days, but it certainly has to be almost none. Any guesses as to what interest rate kicks in after 30 days? It can’t be low.

Hence, a more-than-100% growth in profits on a 40% hike in repairs:

Herron credits the financing initiative, launched three months ago, for a big boost in service work. Over the past two months, monthly repair orders have risen from 125 yielding net profit of $8,900 to 175 generating $19,750, she said.

And here’s the “work” of the car dealership, the labors that unleash such economic wonders:

Herron said the initiative grew out of a strategy session five months ago during which she met with Garber Buick’s general manager, Rich Perdue, and other employees to devise a way to increase customer-pay service work.”

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The least surprising possible news from today’s New York Timess:

New legislation to pay for transportation is a priority for both parties because the nation’s Highway Trust Fund is nearing insolvency. Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, has said the trust fund could begin “bouncing checks” by this summer. That would force a halt to construction projects around the country, officials have said.

Note the equivalence between “transportation” and “the nation’s Highway Trust Fund.”

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