Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

Heated Steering Wheels!

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?

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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.

entuneThe 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.

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Electric Car Makes History

Consumer Reports:

We buy about 80 cars a year and this is the first time in memory that we have had a car that is undriveable before it has finished our check-in process.

The car in question?  The publicly subsidized Fisker Karma.

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Speaking of Tools…

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.

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horse_suit From the department of “Yep, they said it” comes this item in today’s edition of Automotive News:

Mike Accavitti, the former head of Dodge who became American Honda’s vice president of marketing in August, describes the current luxury market as “too much machine and not enough humanity.”

Replace the phrase “the current luxury market” with “the automobile.” Does anything change?

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snake_pig In his latest Do the Math post, physicist Tom Murphy estimates that total human energy use, in all forms across the whole globe and its 7 billion inhabitants, is something like 13 TW (TW = terawatts, or trillion watts). Murphy also calculates that the United States’ annual use of 7 billion (yes, it’s the same number now as the planet’s population) barrels of petroleum constitutes an energy burn of 1.3 TW, or ten percent of total human power use.

For those tracking the insanity of cars-first transportation, this suggests a few follow-up calculations.

We know that, as of 2009, 72 percent of U.S. oil use was in the form of transportation fuel. We also know that some additional petroleum is used both to build automobiles and to build and maintain asphalt roads for automobiles, so the true share of U.S. oil use explained by cars and trucks is certainly at least 75 percent.

Since the United States burns 10 percent of humanity’s total current energy budget on oil, and since cars-first transportation accounts for at least three-quarters of total U.S. oil use, then oil-based transportation in the United States devours 7.5 percent of humanity’s total energy budget.

At present, the population of the United States is about 4.5 percent of Earth’s human population.

Interestingly, the 59 percent of the total U.S. oil burn that goes into personal cars and trucks works out (.59 times 7.5) to 4.4 percent of total world energy use, meaning that, if energy use were distributed fairly across the planet, the U.S. fleet of personal-use automobiles would be devouring the nation’s entire per-capita share.

This, of course, doesn’t include the gas and diesel fuel that gets used in the country’s cargo-delivery trucking system. Much or all of the long-distance trucking sector exists as a way to break and preempt labor unions and thereby restrain labor expenses/incomes, as long-haul truckers are about as disinclined to form unions as railroad workers are prone to forming them.

The President who happily signed the most recent major legislation encouraging the ascendance of long-haul trucking over railroad freight, the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, despite the obvious energy inefficiency of trucks compared to trains? Nope, not Reagan. Our old friend and darling of phony-green false history, one James Earl Carter, Jr.

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Teenage Wasteland

Neil Postman once argued that permitting corporate capitalists to continue their dominance over off-the-job experience and communications would progressively turn us into a nation of mental teenagers. Was he right? Consider this new offering from the bailed-out Fiat-Chrysler corporation — a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3-themed Jeep Wrangler!

This fine, appropriate, grown-up offering for our age of Peak Oil will be listed at “$36,495 for the two-door model and $40,070 for the four-door (Jeep Wrangler Unlimited) model.” The MPG for this 4,000-pound machine? 17 in the city and 21 on the highway.

And what will our hordes of armchair tough-guys do with their new Jeeps? Some, of course, will go destroy what remains of a local forest. Many more will stick to the usual.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Old Wine, Phony Bottles

winehead You know all the ads like this one, the ones that imply we live in an age of new fuels, and the task at hand is merely deciding which one is best?

Well, when it comes to cellulosic ethanol, one of the handful of major candidate “alt” fuels, guess how new that process is? Chemical engineer Robert Rapier reports:

I don’t think I have ever had the privilege of using a literature reference from 1819, but here it is. In 1819, Henri Braconnot, a French chemist, first discovered how to unlock the sugars from cellulose by treating biomass with sulfuric acid (Braconnot 1819). The technique was later used by the Germans to first commercialize cellulosic ethanol from wood in 1898 (EERE 2009).

But believe it or not, commercialization also took place in the U.S. in 1910. The Standard Alcohol Company built a cellulosic ethanol plant in Georgetown, South Carolina to process waste wood from a lumber mill (PDA 1910). Standard Alcohol later built a second plant in Fullteron, Louisiana. Each plant produced 5,000 to 7,000 gallons of ethanol per day from wood waste, and both were in production for several years (Sherrard 1945).

To put that in perspective, Iogen claimed in 2004 that they were producing the world’s first cellulose ethanol fuel from their 1,500 gallon per day plant. (While 1,500 gal/day is their announced capacity, if you look at their production statistics they have never sustained more than 500 gallons per day over the course of a year; 2008 production averaged 150 gal/day).

Many companies are in a mad rush to be the “first” to commercialize cellulosic ethanol. The next time you hear someone say that they will be the first, ask them if they plan to invent the telephone next.

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sprout Tom Murphy provides yet another invaluable analysis of yet another “cute solution” to the crisis of cars-first transportation. According to Murphy, here are the actual potential contributions of three ballyhooed recycling-based alternative fuel sources for automobiles:

Used restaurant cooking oil: <1 percent of current oil usage (71% of which goes into moving cars)

Recycled plastic containers: 0.5 percent of current oil usage

Reprocessed human feces: 0.25 percent of current oil usage

Murphy's conclusion:

Demonstration, or proof of concept, is often taken as enough evidence to satisfy our skeptical nature. And even if half of the things we hear about are over-hyped, we hear enough of them to placate our worries. The result is that we do not have an all-hands-on-deck effort to plot our energy future. Reliance on market forces, human ingenuity, and a track record of successful substitution short-circuits our ability to get serious.

“Market forces,” of course, are the key. Capitalists are quite unwilling to permit seriousness on this topic, despite its obvious importance and foreboding. Hence, ignorance and delusion are the only games in town.

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The Zombie Strategy

The private automobile is close to the perfect capitalist product. It is huge, fragile, highly amenable to styling, requires vast supporting and allied industries, and, once its infrastructure has been built, damned close to a mandatory possession. It is highly profitable overkill, calling forth far more business opportunities than would exist in any genuinely economical and sane transportation order.

As everybody knows, the United States, being thoroughly dominated by its corporate overclass, has utterly tied itself to cars-first transportation. As a result, as offshoring and Peak Oil have taken hold, the whole arrangement has been rotting away, creating increasing socio-economic devastation. More and much worse is sure to come, as the overclass continues to plan for perpetual reliance on cars-first living.

One huge indicator of the problems at hand is the fate of Detroit, Michigan, the famous Motor City. During the 2011 Super Bowl, Chrysler had the clever idea to turn Detroit’s misery into a new way of pitching its products. Eminem made this ad, which suggests that Chrysler doing well would somehow revive Detroit, despite the fact that Chrysler, like all car capitalists, uses automation and offshoring to constantly reduce its labor costs.

Now, in a very telling move, the new CEO of Chrysler is none other than the marketing genius that thought up this lovely zombie strategy. Not an engineer. An advertising man.

Nuff said.

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