Apparently, the Chevy Volt’s tendency to burst into flames isn’t just a GM problem. The same issue — failure of battery cooling systems — exists in the IQ-test-for-rich-people known as the Fisker Karma:
Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) — A123 Systems Inc., the maker of batteries for electric vehicles, said it found a “potential safety issue” in batteries it supplies to Fisker Automotive Inc.
A123, which also sells batteries to automakers such as General Motors Co. and Daimler AG, said hose clamps that are part of the internal cooling system of its batteries supplied to Fisker were “misaligned” and may cause coolant to leak. Such a leak could lead to an electrical short circuit, David Vieau, chief executive officer, wrote in a memo on Waltham, Massachusetts-based A123’s investor-relations website.
One wonders how the car’s means of preventing electrical fires is going to perform after collisions, given that misalignment in manufacturing is a problem. Maybe Fisker will have its own battery shut-down squads roving the nation and swooping in after every crash. Or maybe not.
That’s the problem with increased complexity: It tends to create more ways for things to fail.
Of course, so long as we let capitalists dictate how we conduct our lives, they are going to continue insisting that we butter our toast with these profit-maximizing chainsaws.
Tom Zeller, Jr. is Arianna Huffington’s “senior energy and environment writer.” Here is Mr. Zeller’s take on the meaning of the Keystone XL ruse:
This debate pits rich and powerful fossil fuel interests, which, for both good and ill, have shaped and dominated the last century of American economic, industrial and political life, against a growing swell of citizens who insist that it’s high time — for the sake of the planet and everyone who breathes — to turn the page and support cleaner alternatives.
Wrong — radically wrong — at both ends, Tom.
First of all, not only is the Keystone XL scuffle a minor issue to the ruling class, that ruling class is absolutely not organized around “fossil fuel interests,” as if the system is just randomly corrupt. In reality, we live under corporate capitalism. As such, the most important systemic and practical factor is maximum salable waste, not the random promotion of one or another “bad apple” industry. The ultimate problem — the one that makes fossil fuel interests so crucial — is cars and the geo-spatial sprawl they engendered. The oil companies are certainly a major part of the automotive industrial complex, but they are secondary, not primary, in it. The point, to the overclass, is to find a way to keep selling 10 million new cars every year. Change that, and oil becomes a minor issue. Fail to even mention it, and oil is certain to keep flowing in present patterns, Keystone or no Keystone, until there’s no more oil left.
Second, what cleaner alternatives? The so-called “electric” car, pathetic as it is, is actually running on hydrocarbon combustion and nuclear fission. If you are going to paint “cleaner alternatives” to oil as so readily doable, then you are obliged to offer evidence of their viability. Of course, you can’t, because your suggestion there is even more dishonest than the silly idea that the Keystone XL project is somehow vital to the national interest and/or the human future.
With allies like these, who needs enemies? Today’s addition to the DbC Hall of Mirrors hails from Australia. He is Ted Trainer, “environmentalist and author.” Apparently, he’s about as smart as he looks:
Many on the left would share your concern for sustainability but would question your focus on “consumerism” and “affluence”. Most working class people have little choice about housing, transport, car usages or buying product that have been produced in harmful ways. Your response?
Yes it’s true that most people are locked into consumer society due to faulty systems and structures that, for example, force people to drive to work. But I do insist that the demand for affluence is a key driver of today’s major global problems.
As such, the main target, the main problem group is not the corporations or the capitalist class. They have their power because people in general grant it to them. The problem group, the key to transition, is people in general.
The problem is people in general! Wow.
Door to door, my drive to The Globe and Mail’s head office in downtown Toronto is about 35 kilometres each way, which should be fine for the Leaf. Still, I charged it from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to ease any anxiety. When I left for work, the display in the dashboard reads 185 km of battery power. Confidence set in and I cranked up the heat and radio. But after only 10 kilometres on the highway, the battery capacity dropped to 100 km.
Anxiety set in. I turned off the heat and radio for the rest of the drive. I reached work with 85 km remaining – plenty of juice to get home. But the problem is there’s no place to recharge at work. And the battery range varies depending on the driving conditions, speed, weather, and temperature.
So, after a nine-hour work day with the Leaf sitting in the cold, I returned for the drive home. This time, I played it safe from the get-go – no radio, no seat warmers, no heat – only the wipers working intermittently as it rained. Eyes glued to the dash, the numbers dropped steadily. Relieved, I made it home with 23 km to spare. I was in the red zone, which means recharge as soon as possible. I breathed a sigh of relief and plugged it in immediately. Since the battery was almost fully drained, the display indicated that there was an estimated 21 hours to a 100 per cent charge.
This is the report by Toronto Globe and Mail reporter Petrina Gentile. 70 kilometers, by the way, is 43.5 miles. Gentile barely made that round trip, and had to do so without a heater running in Toronto, Canada in the late fall. As a reward, she lost access to the car for the next 21 hours, meaning, if she’d been an owner rather than a journalistic reviewer, she couldn’t have used the Leaf to go to and from work the next day!
As an illustration of the ideological power of the “electric” car, despite this objectively ridiculous performance, Gentile gives the Leaf a rating of 8.5 out of 10! She also echoes Nissan’s preposterous marketing claims by calling the Leaf “greener than green,” despite the importance of nuclear fission and hydrocarbon combustion in Canada’s electrical generation, despite the Leaf’s heavy reliance on scarce and precious minerals, and and despite the inherent insanity of using a 3,354-pound machine to take a single person to work and back.
I’m not saying class is everything, or that there is zero popular power in the United States. Nonetheless, it remains a point of interest how well socialized our opinion makers are in the habit of blaming everybody (and hence nobody) for arrangements that are clearly related to the inequality of wealth and power.
This a priori socialization of blame is particularly strong on the topic of cars-first transportation. Are automobiles deadly, dirty, wasteful, expensive, maybe even downright stupid? Well, what can we do? “Americans are having a love affair with this car.” Such is the routine quasi-official (non-)diagnosis, even among the purported critics.
Consider this week’s NTSB call for a nationwide ban on all cell phone use by operators of moving automobiles. DbC has pointed out how pathetic this ban is likely to be, if and when it gets implemented.
Why, pray tell, is this the case? DbC, of course, suggests it has something to do with the interests and efforts of both automobile manufacturers and cellular phone marketers. We might also point out that, even before the NTSB’s recommendation and even without anything resembling a proper explanation of the facts, something like half the U.S. population supported a total cell phone ban.
How delightful, then, that we have journalists like Rick Newman of U.S. News and World Report to put it all in perspective for us. “[N]obody,” Newman reports, “needs to worry about federal agents policing their iPhone or Blackberry.” Why not? Simple, pristine popular demand, of course:
But Americans tolerate all kinds of danger, death and even mayhem in the name of personal freedom. We insist on it, in fact, and policymakers listen.
See how it works? First you lump everybody together. Then you say we’re all the same and simply insist on killing ourselves. In the process, contradictions and capitalist interests magically cease to appear.
Today, the National Transportation
Danger Safety Board, reacting with all the usual alacrity in response to definitive, alarming, life-and-death six-year-old research results, called upon all 50 states and the (federally disenfranchised) District of Columbia to “ban” all use of personal electronic devices by automobile drivers. Distracted driving, as that 2006 research showed, is at least as dangerous as drunk driving. The NHTSA reckons that distraction is now a factor in 10 percent of all car crashes, including the ones that harvested 33,885 lives in 2010.
Better late than never certainly applies here. (Unless, of course, you happen to be amongst those closely connected to the 15,000 people killed by distracted drivers between the time the above-mentioned research was published and now.)
But what, pray tell, does this idea of “banning” cell phone use by car-drivers actually mean? What are the penalties imposed by the existing bans, all of which gut themselves by indulging the sponsored fiction that “hands-free” devices lower the risk of PED distraction? Let’s look at that well-known pace-setter in government regulation, California:
Fines and “points.” The fine for a first offense, including penalty assessments, is $76. A second offense is $190. However, although a violation of the handheld cell phone ban is a reportable offense and will appear on your driving record, it will not count as a point. (California uses a “point system” for moving violations. If you accumulate too many points, your insurance rates increase and you may lose your privilege to drive.)
Here in Oregon, where DbC is produced, things are far harsher: The offense here is a Class D Traffic Violation, i.e. of the same seriousness as the lowest possible speeding tickets (i.e., the ones that never get written), the ones given for driving 0-10 mph above the limit. Hence, to get a single point on one’s Oregon DMV record for breaking the cell phone “ban” here, one would have to get not just ticketed for it, but convicted of it twice within 12 months.
Meanwhile, drunk driving arrests (not convictions) here bring an automatic 30-day driver’s license suspension. Convictions for first DUIIs bring further license suspensions of from 3 months to one year. DUII is also way above a Traffic Violation, statutorily speaking. For first-timers, DUII is a Class A Misdemeanor — i.e., a criminal matter, meaning arrest, handcuffs, booking, and at least a short stay in jail. The fines at this level are ten times higher than for a Class D Traffic Violation.
Notice that, in today’s call for a “ban” on all cell phone use by drivers, the NTSB said nothing about the above double standard. So, wrist-slaps are almost certainly what it’s proposing as the backing for its requested toughening of the law. Quite a bold move, no? Strike that pose!
Meanwhile, we DbCers might also note another screaming double standard in this story. In her clarion call for extending the lash of the wet noodle, NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman implored us to remember the context:
“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”
True enough, and hear, hear. Why, then, is any automotive sale, any capitalist’s dividend boost worth the same? Why, one might ask an agency allegedly devoted to travel safety, are we still pressing on with cars-first transportation? There are, after all, other ways to live.
Mike Accavitti, the former head of Dodge who became American Honda’s vice president of marketing in August, describes the current luxury market as “too much machine and not enough humanity.”
Replace the phrase “the current luxury market” with “the automobile.” Does anything change?
It’s that time of the year again — the day the Orwellianly-named National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announces its official count of the number of people who died in U.S. automotive collisions last calendar year.
As always, the news this year is good: In 2010, only 32,885 people were killed in car crashes! Isn’t that heart-warming?
How is this good news, you ask? What would we be saying if 2,740 among us were dying each month in war, terrorism, or some other kind of accident? Would those deaths ever be reported as happily reduced? Or would the absolute number be portrayed as a scandal, a dire emergency, or an outrage?
Would we tolerate a governmental agency supposedly charged with reducing the deaths instead playing logical tricks with the numbers — say by reporting that, while a war was killing 2,740 people a month, there were fewer deaths per enemy bullet fired? No? Then why is the NHTSA’s habit of reporting automotive crash deaths as a number per mile driven — as if what matters is the risk per distance, rather that the risk per day — not taken as its own outrage?
The answer, of course, is that because cars-first transportation is the lifeblood of corporate capitalism, its inherent dangers simply must be packaged in a favorable light, the millions of dead be damned.
The company [GM] is notified of any crashes through its OnStar safety system, and it dispatches a team to drain the batteries within 48 hours. GM said NHTSA didn’t drain the battery packs of energy after the tests, but the automaker acknowledged that it hadn’t told the agency of its procedures back in June when the first fire occurred.
1) GM almost certainly knew these fires would be happening. Otherwise, why would the Drain Teams exist?
2) The Volt has never been a serious proposition. Think about it: How realistic is it to imagine the smooth operation of Drain Teams, if the Volt had actually been a genuine product, rather than mere haloware supporting the continued sales of Silverado pickups? If there were a million Volts out there, rather than 6,000, how expensive would it be for GM to be hiring and managing the hundreds of requisite Drain Teams?
3) There has almost certainly been collusion between GM and the NHTSA to delay release of the news of this issue. The NHTSA’s fire happened in June. Its investigation was acknowledged in late November. What possible reason could explain that gap, other than the obvious one — that the NHTSA sees its mission as assisting car capitalists?
Will any of this corruption have an effect on public policy? Not a chance. Cars are the lifeblood of “our” economy, after all.
This point cropped up for me again when, prompted by my good friend Douglas Pressman, I looked at a recent piece from Forbes magazine titled “Watching The Wheels Come Off The Green Machine.” This op-ed by one Bill Frezza, a self-described “free market advocate,” conveys news of the less-than-underwhelming results of the ongoing efforts to peddle “electric” cars. Much of what Frezza reports will be unsurprising to DbC readers:
Few seemed to notice last week when the electric vehicle maker A123 Systems—poster child for successful clean tech investing—“temporarily” laid off 125 workers at its flagship manufacturing plants in Michigan on the eve of the Thanksgiving media break. It also reduced its earnings guidance for 2011 by $45 million, because its anchor customer, Fisker Automotive, “unexpectedly” delayed the production ramp-up for its Karma luxury electric car—again.
Environmentally correct planners put all this public money to work to relieve the technology bottleneck they believed held back our transition to electric cars. So they invested my money and yours into building the largest lithium ion automotive battery plant in North America—to supply a Finnish electric car manufacturer backed by Al Gore’s venture capital fund and which received $529 million in federal loan guarantees. That Finnish manufacturer was supposed to begin production in 2009, but to date has only shipped 40 cars into the U.S. Those cars were delivered to a handful of millionaires and billionaires like Leonardo DeCaprio and Ray Lane who received tax credits because they bought an electric car.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Now, DbC considers it a high priority to spread such news. Every time a potential realist gets snookered into advocating electric cars instead of directing attention to social power and the need for radical transportation reform and conservation efforts, the human race takes another step toward Carmageddon.
But, as we work to peel off as many people as we can from the prevailing supply-side campaigns, it is important to remember that this effort in no way makes us allies with those who call themselves conservatives.
Take a look at Mr. Frezza’s essay, and you’ll see why: Frezza, like all conservatives, refuses to recognize that, foolish and corrupt as it is, the push for green cars is an attempt to rescue cars-first transportation from its own fatal flaws. Could we really, seriously conclude that the existing transportation arrangement in the United States is even imaginably sustainable for more than another few decades? If anybody can tell me how that could happen, please write in.
Meanwhile, not only does Frezza refuse to contemplate that little question, he also — again, like all conservatives — pushes the idea that existing reality is somehow a result of the reign of pure free choice. Frezza treats the green car push as proof of the inherent stupidity of “central planning.” He implies that the existing U.S. automotive fleet is full of “car[s] that customers actually want.”
Of course, the actual history of transportation choice in America is rather different from what Frezza alleges it to have been. From the moment the car was perfected as an object of assembly line manufacture, the corporate capitalist overclass was beyond smitten. Addicted, in fact, is the proper descriptor of their bond with the automobile. In actual history, once the car became a viable corporate product, all hope for genuine transportation choice — how many people would nowadays choose to own no car at all, if we’d built our cities to make that choice convenient? — was up in smoke. In reality, GM is now 100 years old, and so, with the arms of government fully subordinate all along the way, is transportation dictatorship in the United States.
“Drive on!,” say the “conservatives.”
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