Bad Ideas All the Way Down

turtle-pile Seems robocars are already producing negative effects in existing drivers’ behavior. Per Automotive News:

“Without question, technology is making drivers lazier and less attentive,” said Mike Harley, group managing editor at Kelley Blue Book. “Most of today’s digital ‘driver assistance’ features are designed to overlay basic driving skills, which relaxes the driver’s sense of responsibility.”

A University of Michigan study showed that may already be the case. The school recently conducted research for an automaker concerned with how people are using blind-spot detection systems that alert drivers with chimes and warning lights when another car is in a difficult-to-see area. The study found a significant increase in drivers failing to look over their shoulder to check for themselves when changing lanes.

A future of robocars — itself far from a proven outcome, thanks to the very skills it would have replace — would mean the loss of the amazingly complex body of lifelong learning and knowledge that now goes into live, person-controlled motor-vehicle operation. Automation, you see, erodes human capabilities.

The question of what forces are most deeply behind the apparent madness for “self-driving” automobiles is complicated and interesting. Certainly, the good old desire to pile more mark-uppable parts into cars, which have always been one of corporate capitalism’s two great platforms for maximum commodification of life (the other being the single-family surburban house, itself mostly an offshoot of the rise of the private automobile), is one major factor. And, given corporate capitalism/market totalitarianism’s inherent problem of advancing commercial saturation of life spheres, the overclass is also certainly eager to gain heightened access to people’s drive-time attentional processes.

poll-result

Another force is the PR need to paint the hugely outdated automotive-industrial complex look like it’s somehow “cutting edge,” rather than the patently obvious (albeit unmentionably so) planet-endangering dinosaur that it is.

In any event, you know you’re in a decrepit empire when the only discussable answers to problems are further redoublings of past pipedreams/disastrous wrong turns. “Self-driving cars” is absolutely just such a phenomenon.

Why Civilizations Get Killed

earth-kill From the latest Automotive News:

Ford CEO Mark Fields…said last week: “The good news is as we see that shift into trucks and utilities going forward, that’s a benefit for us because of our profitability on those vehicles.”

The same point applies a hundred fold, of course, when comparing cars in general to the actually sustainable modes of locomotion.

Death Machines

elon-musk Touting the overclass fantasy that computer navigation will someday somehow rescue cars-first transportation from its own fatal flaws, that king of hype, Elon Musk, let loose this Freudian slip:

“You can’t have a person driving a 2-ton death machine.”

Quite right, yet how is it that we not only have that, but refuse to talk seriously about fixing the problem?

The answer lies in the political economy of what is and what is not discussable. Cars are as profitable and pro-capitalist as they are wasteful and dangerous. Hence, directly discussing and combating their wastefulness and danger is forbidden within the great marketing campaigns we know as mainstream media and mainstream politics.

Fortunately, Mr. Musk also has something to say about what would happen if that taboo were ever shattered:

“People may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous.”

Musk, of course, is thinking only of the immediate dangers to individuals in and around in-service automobiles, not the larger dangers of climate change, resource depletion, and petro-war. He also presumes that driving, not cars-first transportation, is the problem to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the point stands: People may outlaw driving cars because its too dangerous.

TCT hereby goes on record to say the sooner, the better.

Trains Serving Automobiles

suv rail cars None other than The Economist magazine says that “America’s freight railways….are universally recognised in the industry as the best in the world.” Our passenger rail, of course, would have to greatly improve to reach the level of a sick joke.

How ironic and telling, then, is this news, as reported by Automotive News?:

Railroad companies are struggling to keep up with surging U.S. demand for trucks and SUVs, frustrating Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

The rail industry’s struggle to keep up with the car industry’s growth was felt last year, when unusually harsh winter weather forced companies to slow down locomotives and run shorter trains. That led to backlogs for commodities that make up a bigger share of cargo, including fuel, coal and grain. The disruptions left automakers with as much as about 250,000 vehicles waiting to be shipped by rail, according to TTX Co., the rail-car pooling operator. The typical industry standard is having about 70,000 shippable vehicles on the ground and waiting to move.

Once again, our grandchildren, should they somehow inherit a livable, hsitorically-aware world, will debate whether to laugh or to cry over this Orwellian technological inversion. As we squandered the planet’s last stocks of easy fossil fuels, the main engine of that squandering overwhelmed one of the main alternatives to the whole terrible charade.

May our descendants somehow forgive us…

Outdated Technology Worship

Our grandchildren, should we somehow figure out how to leave them a world still capable of such activities, will spend considerable time pondering how and why we allowed our overclass to keep pushing the reign of the automobile for so long after it was eminently clear that relying on moving 3,500 machines for every mundane urban travel task was a very bad idea indeed.

Some of their answer will have to acknowledge the continuance of shameless corporate dogma. Take, for instance, this howler:

So, computers are somehow going to defeat the spatial requirements of moving a 200-million-plus fleet of cars and trucks? Wanna bet?

Despite the silliness of the suggestion, it is a mistake to underestimate the impact of this kind of pie-in-the-sky propaganda. It is a powerful distraction.

The Bailout Worked

Vance Packard book cover According to Automotive Age, the publicly-restored car corporations are raking it in now:

American consumers are on pace to spend more than $400 billion buying new vehicles this year for the first time ever.

That’s nearly 80 percent more than just five years ago, during the recession, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which does not adjust the numbers for inflation. It’s also more than a decade ago, even though sales volumes are still lower now. Higher transaction prices have more than made up for the shortfall in volume.

The rise in revenue is comfortably outpacing the overall gain in volume as consumers shift toward larger, pricier SUVs and crossovers and away from less-expensive sedans. And the added revenue is lubricating the industry like never before.

At 2004 transaction prices, which were about $4,500 per vehicle less than today, the industry would have needed to sell about 19 million vehicles to achieve the current level of consumer spending.

“The industry is performing at a very, very high level,” said Thomas King, a J.D. Power vice president. “There’s good news on volume, exceptionally good news on transaction prices and therefore record-breaking spending. We broke the record in ’13 and we’re going to break that record again in ’14.”

Atrocious news for the planet and its dominant species, of course…

But what’s that, compared to even more money for the 1%?

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!