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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Tesla Fire

As we continue to await Elon Musk’s ten-minute battery charge, it seems that his $70,000 boondoggles are liable to to be entirely destroyed by running over “large metal objects” in the road:

Love the excuses from Tesla’s damage-control department:

Yesterday, a Model S collided with a large metallic object in the middle of the road, causing significant damage to the vehicle. The car’s alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did. No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities. Subsequently, a fire caused by the substantial damage sustained during the collision was contained to the front of the vehicle thanks to the design and construction of the vehicle and battery pack. All indications are that the fire never entered the interior cabin of the car.

The real story, of course, is that a commonplace under-car impact that would have caused little or no damage to a conventional gasoline-burning automobile totaled a $70,000 Tesla and put both its occupant(s) and fire fighters in severe danger, while creating a huge traffic jam, all thanks to the design and construction of the vehicle and battery pack.

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Sicker and Sicker

As automobile ownership re-stratifies along with the rest of the world, there is apparently an imminent race to produce ultra-luxury SUVs. Here is a shot from Bentley’s forthcoming $240,000 ultra-monstrosity:

Bentley-SUV-REAR-open

Just what the world needs, no?

Despite the screaming sickness of the plan, here’s Brit PM Cameron drooling all over it:

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who was present together with Dr Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Volkswagen Group for the announcement at Bentley headquarters in Crewe, said: “This £800 million of investment and a thousand new jobs from Bentley is fantastic news for both Crewe and for the UK as a whole. It is another important milestone in strengthening our economy.

“One sector that we know is sprinting ahead in the global race is our booming automotive industry. The UK became a net exporter of cars for the first time this year and we launched the Government’s Automotive Strategy to help continue this success for years to come.”

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Sound Symposer

rube_tube Cars are marketing platforms, ever-expanding rolling heaps of profit-yielding geegaws. Hence, they are mandatory in market-totalitarian America.

The latest “innovation”? Devices that actually increase the noise inside a car:

Sound Symposer: Amplifies engine sounds to provide enhanced soundtrack for drivers tackling the open road. Unique for Fiesta ST in that it is the first time the sound is directly fed into the passenger cabin.

The target audience of this engineering marvel? “Performance enthusiasts.”

Yet again, Orwell could not make up this stuff.

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strings Readers of DbC know that cars exist to sell people far more transportation equipment than they need, and that adding mark-uppable geegaws to cars has always been a core part of this indispensable corporate capitalist endeavor. DbC has also been reporting on how onboard electronics is the next great frontier in this push, and how it is making cars-first transportation even more unsafe for its supposed primary beneficiaries.

Last week in Novi, Michigan, the relevant powers that be assembled for the Telematics Detroit 2013 conference.

According to Automotive News, the show included a panel discussion in which four experts admitted that the ballyhooed arrival of the “driverless” car is exceeding unlikely, due to the inherent expense and complexity of this Rube Goldberg-squared idea.

Noteworthy in Automotive News‘ report are two quotations from the experts on this panel.

The first is a piece of unintended comedy from Andreas Mai, director for Cisco System’s automotive unit in North America:

“I would actually pay for being able to drive to Chicago in the middle of the night at 200 mph,” Mai joked.

Gosh, Herr Mai, wouldn’t that be routine, if we’d built railroads, rather than letting our capitalists dictate cars-first transportation?

The second remark is simply back-room Mafia-talk from Heri Rakouth, director of technology exploration at Delphi Corporation:

“For me, safety is the business of the government,” Rakouth said.

That’s from the mouth of somebody whose occupation is pushing “Internet connectivity and infotainment aspects” into cars. That, of course, is the practical equivalent of shoving open whiskey bottles into drivers’ laps.

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maze Automotive News reports the unsurprising news that more than a third of people’s tax refunds this year will go into automotive spending. Reporting on an Ebay-sponsored survey, AN says:

Roughly 68 percent of the taxpayers surveyed have either received a tax refund check or expect to receive one this year, according to eBay. The average overall refund amount is $2,900. The average refund amount going to auto related purchases is more than $1,000.

Cars: The ultimate wallet drainer.

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Museum Proposal

urbee DbC hereby proposes a new National Museum of Late-Capitalist Insanities. The NMLCI will be dedicated to the collection, preservation, and display of items and ideas characteristic of our epoch, with an eye to allowing a) the presently sane, b) future generations, and/or c) future extraterrestrial archaeologists to contemplate just how far out of touch our overclass and our culture have become.

Given the massive irrationality yet absolute political-economic centrality of the effort to perpetuate cars-first transportation in the face of obvious, directly associated impending disasters, there could be no better first NMLCI exhibit than the object at right, the 1,200-pound, “safe as possible,” 3-d “printed” Urbee car.

The rank pipedreams preserved in this pet project of Canadian engineer-capitalist Jim Kor are truly NMCLI-worthy:

For starters, the sales slogan is “Urbee: The Natural Way to Drive.” What could possibly be more un-natural than using immensely intricate and wasteful, 95% idle machines to accomplish mundane intra-village locomotion?

The rest of the proposal is about ecological conservation. Once again, what could possibly be more ecologically idiotic than using immensely intricate and wasteful, 95% idle machines to accomplish mundane intra-village locomotion? Without even mentioning fuel and manufacturing issues, you can get 40 bicycles for 1,200 pounds of final mass, and bicycles are orders of magnitude simpler and easier to repair and preserve.

As for “safe as possible,” who wants to ride in this glorified golf cart with moped wheels on American roads, around all these SUVs and delivery trucks? Hands?

The fact that such elementary realities are missed by an engineer speaks tomes about the prevalence of magical thinking in our doddering profit-driven social order.

Hat-tip.

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Cellulosic Vapors

vapor cloudRemember 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.”

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Throw-Away Cars?

cardump Libertarian car buff — only in America, folks! — Eric Peters has a very useful commentary today. The car corporations’ efforts to boost MPG results is producing a major increase in the already mind-boggling complexity of their products. Peters:

For example, turbochargers – sometimes not just one but two of them, staged in sequence (as for example Ford’s new line of “EcoBoost” engines) are becoming a fairly common feature in run-of-the-mill cars. Family cars – even economy cars. Turbos used to be found almost exclusively in performance and luxury cars.

Turbos – which provide an on-demand increase in power – are expensive. So how come they’re being used more and more in economy-minded and family cars? Because they also provide a fuel economy benefit – the flip-side of on-demand power. They permit the use of a smaller-in-size (and so, more economical) engine, which makes the government happy. The on-demand power (as when you want to accelerate quickly to merge with traffic) makes consumers happy – and more, tolerate an engine that would otherwise be too small/weak.

Same goes for the new Auto Stop-Start feature several new cars now come with – again, to try to placate Uncle Sam and his ever-escalating demands for more fuel-efficient cars. Like hybrids, the engine automatically shuts down when the vehicle is stationary – as when it comes to a stop for a traffic light. When the light turns green and the driver presses down on the accelerator pedal, the system automatically restarts the engine. If you drive in a heavily congested area – and do a lot of just-sitting-there – the feature might save you a noticeable amount of gas.

Several automakers are [also] putting “automated manual” transmissions in their cars (for example, the Direct Shift or DSG transmissions used in several new VW models)… also for the fuel efficiency benefit. A computer operates the clutch – and the transmission functions as a conventional automatic, as far as the driving experience is concerned. Just put it in D and off you go. These transmissions are amazing from an engineering/technical point-of-view.

All these new add-ons, however, come with a pretty serious problem: When they fail, they are, as Peters explains, “very expensive things to repair/replace.”

Replacing a crapped-out turbo can easily be a $2,000 job. And if the car has two turbos…

Starter motors – up to now – were designed to start the engine maybe four or six times or so in a given day. What happens to their long-term durability when the duty cycle is much more extreme (perhaps dozens of start-stop cycles every day)? How much will it cost to replace one of these starters?

Fixing a newfangled variable transmission? “[A]bout $2,500-$3,000 is the current going rate.”

More such stuff is in the pipeline.

It’s all neat – but it isn’t free. And when the warranty runs out, it’ll be left to you to foot the bill for repairs. Since some of these things are mandated by law (such as the tire pressure monitors and back-up cameras) you will have to get them fixed, if they stop working. If you want to make it through state “safety” inspection, that is.

And while there’s no law (yet) requiring that a car’s turbocharger be fully functional, if it’s not fully functional, the car won’t function very well – if at all. Which means – again – you’ve pretty much got to get it fixed.

Or get a new car.

Peters’ conclusion:

The bottom line could be that we are finally on the threshold of something many (me included) have feared would eventually come to pass: The era of the throw-away car. The complexity of new car design is reaching a kind of apotheosis – a point of no return as far as what you might call economic fixability is concerned. You buy it, it works great for a period of time. And when it stops working great, you throw it away. Because it’s just too damn expensive to repair it.

It’s entirely possible, I think, that warranty coverages will reflect this. The industry-best is now 10 years/100k. That will probably become the de facto standard.

All this, of course, is simply logical. Cars are the purest expression of the dictatorial lifestyle mandates of corporate capitalism. “Built to break” is the whole idea, an essential part of the beautiful business proposition they have always been.

[Hat tip.]

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Laugh of the Week

If you look around — I’m not going to do them the dignity of linking anything, you’ll see that Ford is now trying to rescue its long-moribund Lincoln nameplate for supposed “luxury” cars.  Take a look.  It’s damned funny stuff.

My favorite howler from among great long strings of them:  Here’s what Ford’s James D. Farley, Jr., the pitiable head marketer for this new junk-push, told The New York Times yesterday:

The name Lincoln has very strong meaning for this country. What he stood for as president was independence, fortitude and elegant thinking.

Yes, the president who pushed railroads, preserved the nation-state, and said, if he could, he would do so without abolishing slavery was all about cars, “independence,” and guts.

The “elegant thinking” part?  Well, that’s just pure comedy gold…

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