The desperation of the overclass to preserve cars-first transportation, the lifeblood of corporate capitalism, is suggested by the story of Fisker, the recently imploded attempt to produce viable “electric” (meaning coal, nuclear, and natural gas) cars.
According to Automotive News, not only was Fisker “allowed to keep using money from a U.S. Energy Department loan after violating its terms multiple times,” but the Fisker corporation spent $660,000 for each car it managed to produce.
Stick a fork in the Fisker boondoggle, despite its quarter-billion-dollars in public gift-money. Per Automotive News, here’s what underlies today’s termination of the entire productive labor force at Fisker:
The embattled automaker has retained crisis communications firm Sitrick and Co., based in Los Angeles. Sitrick issued today’s statement on behalf of Fisker.
Reuters reported last week that Fisker also had retained the law firm Kirkland and Ellis to prepare for a possible bankruptcy filing. Earlier in March, company founder Henrik Fisker resigned citing “several major disagreements with management” over the company’s business strategy.
Fisker has built about 1,800 units of its $100,000 Karma plug-in hybrid, but none since battery maker A123 Systems declared bankruptcy last summer, leaving Fisker without a battery supplier.
Meanwhile, the nation’s (pathetic) public transit systems continue shrinking while in budget-crisis mode, as TPTB push for still more public “research” into this stillborn century-old “EV” pipedream.
What a huge cancel-fuck: Just as physics won’t permit a car that isn’t wildly unsustainable, so corporate capitalism won’t permit anything but more efforts to cancel that uncancelable reality.
Dig the front cover to the new study on Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels, by an elite panel at the National Academy of Science:
Charged by the powers that be with studying not the possibilities for building a sustainable transportation infrastructure but merely the prospects for making the U.S. auto fleet somewhat less wasteful, the cover’s admission that efficient cars are vaporware is a classic Freudian slip.
Meanwhile, here’s a sample of the level of thinking involved in this dutiful little scam. Why are automobiles so unusually important in the USA? The panel’s explanation:
With the automobile being by far the dominant mode of transportation for most Americans, facilitating auto travel has been a major part of DOT’s mission.
See? The auto is dominant because it is dominant! Science lives!
Remember all those promises that things like tree fiber, switchgrass, and cornstalks will soon be rendered into fuel for automobiles? It’s called “cellulosic ethanol.” Its production has been subsidized and mandated for years now.
The latest turn of events is simply humorous: As commercial production of the stuff remains at zero, the EPA is refusing to take a physics-based/EROEI “no” for an answer:
The cellulosic ethanol standard earned the most criticism. A federal court last week tossed out the agency’s requirement for cellulosic ethanol for 2012 as too onerous.
There was no commercial production of cellulosic biofuel last year, but that did not deter the government: It proposed raising the mandate to 14 million gallons from the 8.65 million gallons that was tossed out in court.
“The court recognized the absurdity of fining companies for failing to use a nonexistent biofuel,” said Bob Greco, a director of the American Petroleum Institute. By seeking to nearly double that quota, “EPA needs a serious reality check.”
Given global warming’s impact on established farming patterns, the federally mandated diversion of a huge chunk of the United States corn crop into automotive gas tanks is under some unusual scrutiny. If present, late-stage trends hold and the estimates are correct, the corn-to-ethanol mandate will require using about half of this year’s crop on cars. Among the assured impacts of that will be sharply higher food prices and increased rates of malnutrition in areas of the world where food access is unreliable.
Under such circumstances, any decent, democratic society would obviously recognize the foolishness of the corn-to-cars rule and cancel it without delay.
The left-liberal blogosphere is rightly abuzz over the fact that such recognition and cancellation are not only not being done now, but appear to not be in the cards at all. Indeed, President Obama has gone out of his way to travel to none other than Iowa to appear to be taking sides with beleaguered corn farmers as he upholds the corn-to-cars mandate.
Amid some attempt at sorting through the “debate” over the topic, which pits corn farmers and ethanol refiners against the (usually vilified) oil industry and hunger activists, the overwhelming opinion on the left is that the failure to cancel the corn-to-cars mandate is some combination of mistake or scam, a failure of insight and honesty in national government. More generally, that mistake/scam tends to be explained, in this piece by George Monbiot, as a matter of the rich world versus the poor world, with “the rich world” being defined as all of us who reside in automobile-intensive societies, as if cars-first transportation is of equal importance to all of us “rich worlders.”
Even those who have a great deal of useful information about energy use tend to talk in such “Oops, we did it again!” terms. Consider Robert Bryce, whose piece today on Counterpunch explains the practical implications of the corn-to-cars rule, but then chalks it all up to bumbling and simple corruption:
Last year, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of the Swiss food giant Nestle declared that using food crops to make biofuels was “absolute madness.”
He’s right, of course. But what is so maddening about the madness is that all of this was so easily predictable. The leaders in Congress who foisted the ethanol scam on the American people should have known that droughts happen, that corn crops cannot, will not, grow to infinity.
The only question is whether the feckless bureaucrats in the Obama administration and their willing enablers in Congress will finally put an end to the ethanol madness.
Such naive analysis forgets that cars are the lifeblood of the entire corporate capitalist order, and the “biofuels” ruse is vital to preserving the strategic lie that cars-first transportation is sustainable on planet Earth. It also forgets, as somebody once said, that some portion of the role of politicians is to serve as the executive committee of the overclass, i.e., to make decisions that preserve the conditions required to keep profit-making maximal and maximally secure for all business factions.
Obama is certainly a sell-out, but the world “feckless” simply doesn’t apply to this highly skilled and calculating social climber. As he himself admitted, he is the main pitchfork catcher for the status quo, and he knows it. That’s where the money for elections and wealthy retirements comes from.
Cancellation or even suspension of the corn-to-cars rule is certainly a matter of contesting interest groups and pressing social concerns. But, at the larger level, even a temporary withdrawal of the ethanol mandate would constitute a very bad precedent within overclass-owned political marketing operations, aka government and public policy as we now know it. Without complete freedom to push cars-first transportation above all else, the system enters a zone of serious potential risk. Allowing any consideration — including ballooning food prices and mass starvation — to become a higher priority, even for one year, than that freedom is something close to anathema for the powers-that-be.
Hence, DbC hereby predicts that the Obama (and Cameron) strategy of preserving the corn-to-cars mandate while raising food aid expenditures will continue to win the day, unless and until the public enters the scene and demands a change.
CNN reports on the idiocy of running automobiles on ethanol:
Current rules stipulate that nearly 10% of the nation’s gasoline supply come from corn-based ethanol. To make that ethanol, up to 40% of the country’s annual corn production can be required.
Of course, such reckless waste is built into cars-first transportation and the corporate capitalist dictatorship that insists on its preservation, come hell or high water.
Meanwhile, no commercial media story on cars would be complete without a whopping dollop of exculpatory fantasy. Hence, CNN quotes, without comment, one “Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association,” who contends:
“There is no need to lift the mandate at this time.”
The mandate is crucial, he said, because not only is ethanol a domestic fuel that’s cleaner than regular gasoline, but it spurs investments in advanced ethanol like cellulosic, which can be made from trees or switch grass — not food crops.
Ah, yes, cellulosic ethanol, that magic elixir which, despite a decade of promises, public subsidies, and massive corn-ethanol profits, remains commercially unavailable in the United States! And just how, an actual journalist might have asked Mr. Hartwig, does burning refined sugars from corn kernels “spur investments” in this rank fiction?
No answer, because no question. Of course.
Asked to elaborate on his firm’s findings that most first-time buyers of hybrid cars do not buy a second one, yet do exhibit increased loyalty to the corporate brand of their first hybrid, R.L. Polk & Co researcher Brad Smith tells Automotive News that offering a hybrid is “a great conquesting tool for brands…a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers.”
“Hybrids,” notes Automotive News, “accounted for just 2.4 percent of total U.S. auto sales last year.”
More evidence for the DbC thesis that “alternative fuel” cars are simply loss leaders, an expensive but effective marketing ploy.
If you’ve been following this site, you know that it is a core DbC thesis that automobiles are far closer to their right walls of perfectibility than their sponsors admit or the deluded fans of alternative fuels understand. 100 MPG is simply never going to happen in any car, regardless of its power source, that’s viable in sprawling, cars-first-transportation conditions. The laws of physics forbid it.
To wit, two pieces of news today:
According to this story in the online version of the Albany Times Union the compressed natural gas Honda Civic gets “38 mpg highway, 27 mpg city.” Converting cars to CNG, in other words, would burn up natural gas at the same rate as the better petro-cars now burn oil. Hardly a potential rescue for the status quo.
Meanwhile, here’s why physically tiny cars aren’t as fuel-efficient as you might expect:
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — When most people look at really tiny cars they figure they must get really good fuel economy.
And when compared to trucks or family sedans, they do.
But subcompact and mini-cars — the likes of the Fiat 500 and Chevrolet Sonic — usually don’t get much, if any, better fuel economy than roomier compact cars.
For instance, at 33 miles per gallon, the most efficient version of the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic gets the same overall fuel economy as the larger Chevrolet Cruze Eco compact car. Other versions of those two models differ by only small amounts in combined city and highway driving.
Same for the teeny Hyundai Accent versus the larger Hyundai Elantra. Again, both get 33 mpg in combined city and highway driving. The subcompact Ford Fiesta actually does get better mileage than the compact Ford Focus. But the Focus, with 30% more horsepower and 43% more cargo space, gets beaten by just two miles per gallon.
It’s even true of hybrids. The tiny Prius C gets the same overall fuel economy (city and highway combined) as the larger Prius. Both are rated at 50 miles per gallon.
No matter how small it is, a car still has to hold people inside comfortably.
“You can shorten it up and make it narrower, but the height of a car can only be so small,” said Scott Miller, director of mass, energy and aerodynamics at General Motors, which makes the Sonic and the even smaller Chevrolet Spark, due out soon.
That means that, once you get past compact car size — the size of an Elantra, Cruze or Focus — cars start looking like tall boxes on wheels.
That’s not the best shape for pushing through the air. Slightly larger cars allow designers to refine the shape to better control airflow around the vehicle. Small cars provide less sheet metal to work with.
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.
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.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!