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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In a story that provides more evidence that, as the late Marvin Harris argued and virtually all modern “culture” theorists and most would-be car critics ignore, ideas tend to follow rather than lead infrastructural circumstances, it seems that Peak Oil has begun to kill the Old West/redneck marketing appeal of the pickup truck in the United States. Seems that GM has so over-produced pickups that its dealers are now in possession of enough stock to last them through year’s end.
The reason for this overstock, of course, was GM’s hope that reality would continue on as always. “We thought that this year would bring back the kind of economic activity that would translate into us selling more trucks,” a GM dealer tells Automotive News.
Why that particular hope? Because, vis-a-vis the question of transportation efficiency, pickup trucks and SUVs are double-overkill, and hence much more profitable to capitalists than small, more rational automobiles. Because they pile on even more unnecessary equipment and material than do passenger cars, “Pickups generate more profit per vehicle than passenger cars, analysts say.”
Of course, this is hardly a landslide yet. As Automotive News reports, “Full-size pickups are still the two top-selling vehicles in the U.S. Ford sold 264,079 F-Series in the year’s first half, a 9.9 percent increase, while customers bought 182,785 of GM’s Silverado, a gain of 9.6 percent. The volumes are much lower than before the recession and the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler Group LLC.”
And why do I say pickup equipment is unnecessary?
Percent of pickup owners who never haul items in the truck bed: 27
Additional percent who do so less than monthly: 30
[Note: The above statistics are from the 2005 "Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey" done by R.L. Polk for the Environmental Defense Fund. For some reason, this piece of research seems to have been disappeared from the whole internet, including the EDF's website.]
Having everybody in the United States use automobiles to accomplish daily travel has always been a capitalist pipe dream. That is thanks to the laws of physics and the geology of our planet. It will simply never be remotely economical, sustainable, or sane to deploy 3,000 pound objects that sit idle 95 percent of the time to accomplish what walking, cycling, and public transit could just as easily (and much more safely and healthfully) facilitate. On a planet that was fated to reach Peak Oil, awakening from this pipe dream, one way or another, was also always inevitable.
A major side note to this story is the open secret that the basic physics of automobile travel are also far more fixed than present promises from above would have you believe. Just as an acceptable level of safety in a sprawling, cars-first society like the United States will always require cars to weigh something like 2,500 pounds, so it is that moving 2,500-pound cars will only get so energy-efficient.
Evidence of this physical fact was recently helpfully analyzed by Rick Kranz of Automotive News:
On the basis of vehicle weight, how dramatic has the increase in fuel economy been over the past 45 years?
This week I was running through some old news articles, seeking information for several stories I’m writing for Automotive News‘ special issue devoted to Chevrolet’s centennial. The issue will be published Oct. 31.
I decided to compare those cars to two 2012 cars with similar vehicle weight to see the differences in fuel economy, 45 years later. Obviously, the length, width and height of the 2012 models are somewhat reduced compared with cars in the ’60s. The new models have far better aerodynamics than the Chevy and Rambler. Additionally, the 2012s compared here have four-cylinder engines.
The 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne weighed 3,294 pounds and averaged 21.04 mpg. I used a base 2012 Ford Fusion sedan with automatic transmission for the comparison. The Ford weighs 48 pounds more than the Chevy and gets 23 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 26 mpg overall, according to the EPA.
The 1966 Rambler averaged 23.80 mpg, coast-to-coast. For a weight comparison, I used a base 2012 Honda Civic with an automatic transmission. The Civic weighs 2,608 pounds, and is rated at 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 32 mpg overall.
Using the EPA’s overall miles per gallon numbers, the Fusion was 5 mpg better than the Biscayne and the Civic was about 8 mpg better than the American.
Was there a dramatic difference in fuel economy 45 years later on the basis of vehicle weight?
Those numbers work out to about a 25% mpg gain for the heavier car and a 33% one for the lighter vehicle. So, despite three major oil shocks and the recent quasi-official acknowledgement of Peak Oil, automotive mpg has improved by substantially less than one percent per year since the days when everybody assumed Earth’s resources were infinite and mpg ratings were not posted on sales stickers or anywhere else.
Something to keep in mind the next time you hear some Democrat or other “green car” moron bloviating about 62 mpg.
As the late Stephen Jay Gould wrote, every human endeavor is subject to “right walls,” or outer limits of improvement. Here at DbC, one of our core theses is this: The automobile is already much closer to its own right wall than anybody will admit.
A London group with the comically oxymoronic name of Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership has been busy disproving its own sponsored premise. Turns out that manufacturing a battery for a typical “electric” car puts 3.8 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s two-thirds of the carbon emitted in the manufacturing of a complete medium-sized gasoline car.
What additional carbon dioxide would be emitted in the process of scrapping or recycling millions of “electric” car batteries every year? As the LCVP admits, that remains one of our “gaps in understanding.”
The inescapable fact is that no automobile will ever be “low carbon.” Merely making these rolling piles of metal and plastic and lithium is inherently energy- and carbon-intensive.
DbC will say it again: Cars-first transportation was and is a capitalist pipe-dream.
Only the most sophisticated systems work consistently. And even the best ones have some persistent flaws: Women’s voices can be tricky for the technology to decipher, especially when using navigation, causing many female drivers to give up trying. Drivers with foreign accents say it won’t work for them. Even drivers with thick regional accents can have trouble.
Many issues with women’s voices could be fixed if female drivers were willing to sit through lengthy training, [car capitalist] Tom Schalk says. Women could be taught to speak louder, and direct their voices towards the microphone. But he admits that most customers don’t have the patience to figure it out, and are then easily discouraged. Even if a system successfully works 85 to 90 percent of the time, many drivers grow frustrated and call it a failure.
Of course, the real problem with voice-commanding media devices is that it is a form of knowing mass murder by car capitalists, as the research has demonstrated.
Safety advocates like the Governors Highway Safety Association say drivers are distracted by a growing number of gadgets that cause them to look away from the road, such as cellphones, MP3 players and GPS devices. They believe drivers’ divided attention is behind an increase in fatal accidents caused by distracted driving: Distracted driving was a factor in 16 percent of all fatal accidents in 2009, up from 10 percent in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Six percent of 2009′s U.S. auto-crash deaths, by the way, is 2,028.
The industrialists’ response to the blatant facts? The usual: the heroin dealer’s argument:
[S]afety advocates such as Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, argue that too often, things go wrong, leaving drivers tinkering with display screens instead of watching the road.
“Why do we need to be doing this?” asks Adkins. “Driving is a really complex task; you have to be able to react to what other cars are doing. If you’re fiddling with these systems, it can be the difference between life and death.”
But the auto industry argues that drivers will never put away their phones and other devices, so voice-activated technology is the only option to keep drivers focused on the road.
In an attempt to make the technology less distracting, software developers are trying to make the process more natural. Ideally, drivers would feel like they are talking to a passenger in the car, says Tom Schalk, vice president of voice technology for auto supplier ATX Group.
Schalk says drivers will bring technology into their cars, even if it’s legally banned. They’ll continue talking on cellphones and twiddling with their GPS systems, looking away from the road while doing it.
The federal government’s approach to such felonious excuses?
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has met with the top executives at seven car companies, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Honda, to discuss what the companies can do to keep distractions at a minimum.
LaHood won’t say whether he thinks voice recognition technology will solve the problem. He’s leaving it up to the industry to figure that out.
“We’re hoping that they’ll put their creative juices to work in helping us solve this very, very serious and dangerous problem,” he said during a recent press conference.
Yes, creative juices.
If it weren’t for the refusal to pass the obvious laws banning all telephony and texting while driving, the use of things like Ford Sync would also be manslaughter, from the point of view of the driver.
As it stands, the sponsored almost-manslaughter is a source of entertainment to some:
But sometimes the mistakes just turn into laughter. Anthony Castillo has a Ford Fusion, and generally loves the SYNC system. But when he wants to make his kids laugh, he tells it to call his wife, Amy.
Instead, it calls someone from Castillo’s phone book named Peter Schkeeper.
“It gets them laughing every time,” Amy Castillo says.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!