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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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…
Second, to raise your chances even further, be a capitalist specializing in schemes to perpetuate the lifeblood of the system, cars-first transportation.
Finally, hold out your hand.
Even if your product is patently stupid, over-complicated, and downright defective, you will collect.
Cue Dire Straits’ old song and witness the Zerobama Adminstration’s latest gift to A123 Systems, maker of broken and exploding batteries for cars that run on electricity made from coal, nuclear, and natural gas:
Lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems Inc. has received an extension on its $249.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. A123 received $127 million of the DOE grant by the end of 2011, according to the filing. The grant requires the battery maker to match each dollar used from the grant. The extension is designed to allow A123 to use the funds before they expire.
The filing fell on the same day that an A123 battery was linked to an explosion and fire at a prototype testing lab at General Motor Co.’s Warren Technical Center. GM confirmed that a lithium-ion battery cell leaked chemical gases into the lab, causing an explosion. The battery itself remained intact, according to a statement by the automaker.
The incident comes after a series of setbacks for the battery maker. In March, A123 posted a quarterly loss of $85 million for the fourth quarter of 2011, after Fisker Automotive stopped battery orders resulting from production problems. A123 suffered more bad news after a Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports car with an A123 battery failed during a test by Consumer Reports magazine — which led to the announcement of defective batteries. On March 26, A123 reported that five automotive customers received batteries with potentially defective cells manufactured in Livonia. It said it would replace the batteries, which would cost the company $55 million.
A123 is also at the center of a class action lawsuit filed by shareholders.
Not joking. Heated steering wheels are one of the latest geegaws being peddled by the car capitalists. Oh, the glory and the pathos! How on Earth has humanity managed to live so long without heated steering wheels in our 95 percent idle 4,000-pound petroleum burners? Who among us can reckon the massive suffering that has happened before now, what with all those agonizingly chilly control rings?
Of course, the obvious next question is how long must we wait for cooled steering wheels?
Corporate capitalists are addicted not just to perpetuating cars-first transportation, but to using the car itself as a platform for peddling more and more products. Indeed, that’s a big part of why cars are so indispensable to the overclass: They are unique devices for “moving the metal,” which is trade-talk for selling people far more stuff than they actually need.
Take the case of Intel’s just-announced $100-million investment fund, which, according to Automotive News, Intel launched “to encourage hardware and software developers to develop new technologies for automotive infotainment” — i.e., to move more microchips. This is utterly logical, since the main business problem for Intel, as for all major corporate capitalist firms, is market saturation. How can we find — meaning make — new markets?
As Auto News reports, the insides of automobiles are now being exploited as one way of creating these artificial new markets:
By 2014, autos will be one of the three fastest growing markets for connected devices and Internet content, according to a recent report from Gartner Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Conn.
Intel wants a piece of that action.
The new deployments of computer chips into cars will, Auto Age says, take forms such as Entune, developed by Intel partner Denso. Entune is the infotainment system that apparently already comes in some new Toyotas. Watch the demo video here.
Such implantations are not only a glorified way of selling people another cellular telephone, but they will undoubtedly lead to thousands of distracted driving deaths per year. They are, in other words, yet another case of big businesses killing people on behalf of their shareholders.
The new Italian partners in the Chrysler corporation have obviously decided that doubling down on lunkheadedness is the key to selling their wares. We’ve already seen their efforts to paint muscle cars as patriotic. Now, they have the chutzpah to suggest that buying a minivan is “using the right tool for the job”:
Again, I wonder how my grandchildren will look at this amazing piece of in-your-face stupidity. It would be galling enough to talk of the fate of the species in the year 2012 while further peddling the absurd idea that extremely complex 4,000-pound objects are any kind of proper tool for everyday locomotion. But to do so on the thesis that the prospect of hauling mattresses in the proper manly (but not really) way ought to be a yardstick in one’s selection of car model?
This thing is getting pretty Freudian, folks.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!