Outdated Technology Worship

Our grandchildren, should we somehow figure out how to leave them a world still capable of such activities, will spend considerable time pondering how and why we allowed our overclass to keep pushing the reign of the automobile for so long after it was eminently clear that relying on moving 3,500 machines for every mundane urban travel task was a very bad idea indeed.

Some of their answer will have to acknowledge the continuance of shameless corporate dogma. Take, for instance, this howler:

So, computers are somehow going to defeat the spatial requirements of moving a 200-million-plus fleet of cars and trucks? Wanna bet?

Despite the silliness of the suggestion, it is a mistake to underestimate the impact of this kind of pie-in-the-sky propaganda. It is a powerful distraction.

The Bailout Worked

Vance Packard book cover According to Automotive Age, the publicly-restored car corporations are raking it in now:

American consumers are on pace to spend more than $400 billion buying new vehicles this year for the first time ever.

That’s nearly 80 percent more than just five years ago, during the recession, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which does not adjust the numbers for inflation. It’s also more than a decade ago, even though sales volumes are still lower now. Higher transaction prices have more than made up for the shortfall in volume.

The rise in revenue is comfortably outpacing the overall gain in volume as consumers shift toward larger, pricier SUVs and crossovers and away from less-expensive sedans. And the added revenue is lubricating the industry like never before.

At 2004 transaction prices, which were about $4,500 per vehicle less than today, the industry would have needed to sell about 19 million vehicles to achieve the current level of consumer spending.

“The industry is performing at a very, very high level,” said Thomas King, a J.D. Power vice president. “There’s good news on volume, exceptionally good news on transaction prices and therefore record-breaking spending. We broke the record in ’13 and we’re going to break that record again in ’14.”

Atrocious news for the planet and its dominant species, of course…

But what’s that, compared to even more money for the 1%?

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!

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.

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.”

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.

A ROFL and a Confession

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.

As Planned

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.

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.

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.”