Good Times in Texas

To update you on the wonders of a good natural disaster:

Steven Wolf, chairman of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association, said there has been a big spike in customers streaming into dealerships after quick settlements with their insurance companies.

They are mostly looking for pickups and utility vehicles, since that’s about 70 percent of the market in Houston, said Wolf, dealer principal at two stores in the Helfman Motor Sales group. “In our stores, there’s a lot of push for Jeeps, pickup trucks, F-150s, Explorers, Expeditions, Escapes,” he said. Some of the most popular Jeep and Ram trims are in short supply, but dealers in other parts of the country are forgoing inventory so that it can go straight to Houston.

Cooperation between lenders and insurance companies has sped up the process, with flood-damaged cars quickly being declared total losses so that titles are cleared and customers qualify for new loans.

“I’m surprised at how well the insurance companies and banks are working together,” Wolf said. “But remember, in Houston, Texas, we don’t have a tremendous amount of mass transportation, so people need to get a car so they get back to work and get their lives back to normal.” [Automotive News, 28 Sept 2017, emphasis added]

Those Who Love Hurricanes

Corporate capitalism, by design, commodifies everything and mal-distributes income. As a result, it paints its own primary beneficiaries into a corner, even as it sustains their obscene wealth and increasingly decrepit power. As silly products proliferate and the bottom 2/3 of the population goes without discretionary income, it gets harder and harder for corporate marketers to sell new rounds of goods and services. The only possible answer, from the perspective of the investing class, is selling more and more waste to people who still have money to spend.

The ultimate corporate capitalist waste platform is the private automobile. Within a publicly-provided cars-first infrastructure, such machines are not only themselves spectacularly and optimally wasteful, but also enable and stimulate the second great vector for profitable squander, the suburban house-and-yard.

For cars themselves, the ultimate dream for capitalists would be the one described in The Waste Makers, Vance Packard’s 1960 non-fiction best-seller:

The motorcars of Cornucopia will be made of a lightweight plastic that develops fatigue and begins to melt if driven for more than four thousand miles.

That, of course, was an illustrative exaggeration. Individual car owners will not tolerate such directly obvious capitalist tactics. They demand some longevity with their waste.

But consider what we will tolerate collectively: For car-sellers, Hurricane Harvey is very good news, for exactly Packard’s reason. Per today’s edition of Automotive News:

With the storm potentially having damaged 1 million vehicles in Houston, the rush is on in states near and far to acquire and ship new ones into the city.

“We see multi-faceted benefits to new vehicle sales, new vehicle inventories, and used vehicle prices,” Ryan Brinkman, an auto analyst with JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a report Tuesday. Prior to Harvey, weak used-car values had been one of investors’ “chief concerns” with the auto industry, he said.

Such is the stuff of 2017. Our grandchildren will never stop vomiting.

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…