Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

Image Tilter

“The i3 will tilt our image more toward innovation and sustainability.”

– Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America

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hypocrisy Jim Motavalli peddles the notion, in part for The New York Times no less, that there is such a thing as “green cars.”  He is, he says, “passionate about hybrid, hydrogen, biofuel and electric cars.” He is also pals with none other than Bill McKibben, the Don Quixote of our epoch.

McKibben, as we know, is on a tour of the nation’s colleges, trying to encourage the kids to strike a pointless pose about Big Oil, which he describes as a mere “rogue industry,” rather than part and parcel of our cars-first transportation order.

In this context, Jim Motavalli reported a highly interesting fact this week:

McKibben is on a 21-city campus tour in a biodiesel bus, speaking and raising hell. He called me from the road, shortly before taking delivery of his new Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid.

Without commenting on the harebrained joke known as biodiesel, let us ponder this very telling “delivery.” Not only is this a hugely over-rated non-revolutionary product, but accepting (and thereby endorsing) it is analogous to C. Everett Koop ordering up a case of Camel Lights after testify against cigarette corporations.

DbC now wonders whether Mr. McKibben is more than a sad enigma and an example of the limitations of endowed activism. Is he, in fact, a positive danger to the world, a beloved misleader and miseducator, a huge hypocrite?

DbC also asks: Was McKibben’s C-Max a gift from Ford?

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When I first started writing a book about capitalists’ insistence on cars-first transportation, I tried to figure out who coined the familiar jive-line “Americans are having a love affair with the car.” Striking out myself, I wrote to several leading American historians. It seems nobody knows the answer. There’s little doubt it was industry PR, but the thing seems to have become so natural-sounding that people forgot to keep track of where and when they first heard it.

The latest mutation of that century-old trope comes in a particularly humorous form — a claim on behalf of the Chevy Volt!

Precisely as it idles production of the Volt due to lack of sales, GM breaks out this “Happy Volt Owners” ad series:

There is a world of ridiculousness and overclass chutzpah in each line of this thing. “Adam” says he wakes up every morning thinking about the future, but is obviously either unaware of or untroubled by the fact that the electric motor in his new automobile is actually powered by coal, natural gas, and nuclear fission. He “loves” his Volt, he tells us — twice — but fails to mention its price, where and when (or if) he bought it, or how he uses it. Will it burn down his house at some point after being bumped in a parking lot? “Adam,” though he is supposedly somebody willing to spend $40,000 to “make a statement” about how thoughtful he is, doesn’t trouble himself with such things, apparently.

How nice for “Adam” and the ≈5,000 owners of Volts. GM assures us that, despite their beloved car’s status as about .002 percent (yes, 2/1,000ths of one percent) of all passenger cars now on the road in the United States, they are not just the nation’s but the planet’s happiest drivers.  Who’d have guessed?

You heard it there first:  Americans are having a love affairs with the Chevy Volt!

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Leaf Blows Smoke, Too

It takes amazing chutzpah to try, in the 21st century, to imprint the word “innovation” on anything having to do with the automobile. So it’s no surprise that the Nissan corporation is also aggressively preying on the public’s enforced energy ignorance. Here is the current form of that effort, an ad being run in heavy rotation during NFL football games:

The Nissan Leaf, of course, is barely selling, given its exorbitant price and pathetic performance. But the haloware effect is, given the otherwise inexplicable existence of this expensive TV ad, obviously of great value to car marketers.

The above ad shows people in various settings dealing with smoke and inconvenience from an imaginary world in which small appliances burn gasoline. “What if everything ran on gas?” intones Robert Downey, Jr., Nissan’s voice-over actor.

“Then again, what if everything didn’t?” Downey smugly concludes, suggesting that the “electric” car isn’t every bit as toxic and stupid as a petrol-powered dentist’s drill would be.

So, okay Robert, what if all cars were electric?

A few images relevant, for rather basic reasons, to that suggested reality:

miner

coal plants

sickness

nukes

Multiply as needed to create a world of a billion+ new “electric” automobiles…

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huckdud Huzzah! GM has now sold 5,003 Chevy Volts in 2011. That’s a whopping five one-hundredths of one percent ( or .0005) of 2011′s total year-to-date sales of 10,503,526 “light vehicles” in the United States.

Meanwhile, with the government having bailed GM out of the cost of developing this pathetic coal-burning boondoggle, the corporation is settling down to reality, where GM now all but openly admits the Volt is nothing more than a halo product/marketing device.

The marketing operates at two levels — mass media and showroom floor.

In the mass media, GM continues to spend exorbitant (probably a record, if judged by marketing dollar per Volt sold) sums on Volt commercials and ads.

The mass media marketing strategy? Greenwash plus techwash:


Volt marketing chief Tony DiSalle says this one car could lift the whole company. “When consumers see that, they quickly go to the notion that you are smart enough to design and engineer and manufacture a vehicle that’s this capable and this innovative, [and] you just must make better vehicles overall,” he says.

The showroom strategy, meanwhile, is straight-up bait-and-switch:

[Chevy] Cruze sales, by contrast [to below-anemic Volt sales], are on fire. The compact was the nation’s 11th-best-selling car last month, more popular than the Toyota Corolla. And Reuss says he thinks he knows one reason why: Customers lured to the showroom to check out the Volt are leaving with keys to a new $16,720 Cruze. That’s the Cruze shown at top; the Volt to the right.

“The Volt is leading to a lot of Cruze sales,” he told a group of Los Angeles-based reporters last week. Customers “went to see the Volt, but not everyone can buy the Volt.” Reuss says he insisted that every Chevrolet dealer get at least one Volt, knowing it will work as a lure even if no one is buying it. [Source: USA Today]

I would add that the other halo effect of this whole scam is an extension of Tony DiSalle’s point about so-called “consumers” thinking that if “you are smart enough to design and engineer and manufacture a vehicle that’s this capable and this innovative, you just must make better vehicles overall.” The larger rotten presumption they are undoubtedly encouraging is the notion that if they can make a Volt, then cars-first transportation must be sustainable and just fine.

You can tell how much trouble they’re in from just how far and how hard they now have reach.

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Bill Quixote

quixote Like Don Quixote, Bill McKibben is militantly unserious, and entirely unaware of and uninterested in his own comical inadequacy.

On September 9, the bony Señor McKibben graced the stage of the Commonwealth Club of California, at an event dedicated to explaining how McKibben and co-star Paul Hawken “advocate a cleaner and healthier form of capitalism.”

McKibben’s diagnosis of our main problem?

“Our problem is far and away caused by the fact that the fossil fuel industry, which is the most profitable industry on Earth, has all of the financial means at their disposal to keep us from taking action….It’s people versus very concentrated pockets of money.”

Such quixotic superficiality is music to the ears of yuppie pseudo-radicals and capitalists alike. Its repetition signals that cars and capitalism are still safe from scrutiny, despite the accumulating facts of the matter. Fake activists can continue to buy Priuses and strike poses, while business as usual rolls along, unmentioned and unthreatened.

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shell_game As part of their ongoing efforts to perpetuate cars-first transportation, car capitalists in the United States continue to spread the notion that there is or ever could be such a thing as an automobile that is a “zero emissions vehicle,” a.k.a. “ZEV.”

As the slightest thought reveals, this is a 100 percent deceptive claim. We know, for instance, that manufacturing the battery pack for a so-called electric car releases 3.8 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And that is before the so-called electric auto has been driven an inch, i.e. before accounting for the emissions from the coal and nuclear power plants that make the electricity that drive the car’s motor.

Want a couple of yardsticks for assessing just how aggressively dishonest the “ZEV” label really is (and also just how puny checks on capitalist power are in the United States)?

In the UK, corporations are not allowed to run ads that state the “ZEV” claim.

The United States Department of Energy, meanwhile, is fully aware that serious analysis of the emissions impact of all automobiles requires well-to-wheels (WTW), not just tank-to-wheels (TTW), accounting. That’s because every car is a machine that not only gets driven, but also manufactured and fueled. So, the energy and emissions footprint of any and all cars involves both well-to-tank and tank-to-wheels sums. In mathematically form, WTW = WTT + TTW, and this is as elementary and inescapably true as 2 + 2 = 4.

It is the absolute height of dishonesty to lop off and suppress either half of this reality.

Nevertheless, the ZEV formula is 2 + 0 = 0.

It is also the depth of corrupt inaction to permit such dishonesty to rule the day. And of course, that is precisely, exactly what the supposedly public authorities of the United States are doing, despite knowing full well better. “[C]lose attention should be paid to WTT as well as TTW activities,” states the Argonne National Laboratory, to no effect whatsoever on public policy.

Now, there’s your true zero.

P.S.  As Billy Bragg once noted in a rather prescient song (“North Sea Bubble“) about Peak Oil, the Russians used to joke that, after the collapse of the USSR, the elites who had once told them that 2 + 2 = 10 were now arguing that 2 + 2 = 5.  In the USA, we’re no closer to 2 + 2 = 4 than any of that.  Indeed, our overclass’s minimizations of dangers might soon prove to be rather a bit worse than Soviet and Russian exaggerations.

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leaf_chassis In the first six months of 2011, in the United States, “Nissan sold 3,875 Leafs while GM sold 2,745 Volts.” Hence, if we suspend logic and accept that these figures are not exaggerations like virtually everything else claimed about these machines, there are now 6,620 Leafs and Volts among the 246,000,000 cars and trucks currently operating on U.S. roads.

So, to do the math: At this rate, it would take 186 years for so-called “electric” cars to reach the status of being one percent of the present U.S. automotive fleet.

Meanwhile, Nissan has just announced — wait for it — a $2,420 price increase on the cheapest version of next year’s Leaf.

Finally, this is not exactly the newest news, but check out this prediction of dangerous (and presumably catastrophically expensive) collision-induced intrusions into “EV” battery packs.

All this supports DbC’s thesis that the “electric car” is a mere placeholder promulgated to trick people, not excluding the hordes of phony greens who continue to swallow the bait, into giving corporate capitalists another decade or two to finish sucking all the wealth they can out of human history’s greatest infrastructural boondoggle, the cars-first transportation system of the United States.

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In the United States, government devotes great energy to helping the overclass conceal the multiple disasters inherent in cars-first transportation. The agency that tracks the tens of thousands of yearly deaths in car crashes and invariably reports them as good news? That’s the National Highway Traffic Safety (not Danger) Administration.

Hence, how surprised are we here at DbC by this report about the fraudulence of federal CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) mpg ratings?:

Under a 62 mpg CAFE rule, real-world fuel economy would be just under 50 mpg.

And if CAFE were 47 mpg, the real-world number would be about 38 mpg.

To know why, you have to understand what the CAFE number is — a sales-weighted average of the mpg ratings for vehicles produced in a given year. Vehicle mpg ratings are based on lab tests using a dynamometer, a sort of treadmill for cars.

Dynamometer testing produces an artificial number, but it does provide controlled conditions. No wind, no rain. And it allows for precise test protocols. For instance, the federal city-driving test cycle lasts 1,874 seconds, with an average speed of 21.1 mph, and has cold- and hot-start segments of 505 seconds each.

That’s where CAFE mpg numbers come from. But — here’s the curveball — those numbers don’t appear on window stickers.

In an effort to get closer to real-world fuel economy, CAFE numbers are reduced by 20 to 25 percent, depending on the type of vehicle. So a car that scores 35 mpg on the laboratory test will have a window-sticker rating of 28 mpg. [Source: Automotive News, May 9, 2011]

The obvious purpose of the continued use of a test known to be unrealistic? To make the “debate” on transportation among politicians sound more serious than it is, and to thereby shift attention farther away from the real issues, which continue to be utterly unmentionable in public fora.

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chris-paine This is Chris Paine, the gent who made the movie claiming that Big Oil somehow strangled the “electric” (read: coal or nuclear) car.

Not surprisingly, Chris is now claiming victory for himself while shilling for the auto corporations with a new and even dumber movie designed to flatter (e.g., “Meet the Revengers: people who have taken REVENGE for the electric car by converting a gas car, building their own EV, installing charging stations, or otherwise doing their part to generate and promote electric vehicles”) navel-gazing liberals into sleeping through what remains of history.

Chris has never disclosed the slightest interest in connecting transportation with the laws of thermodynamics. If he had, perhaps he wouldn’t have been so thoroughly fooled by the basic physics and economics of supposedly “new” schemes for using 3,500-pound machines for everyday locomotion. As it is, he has moved from mere major crackpottery to that plus pimping.

And the operation known as “Mother Jones” is knee deep in peddling this amazing trash.

In closing, a sample of the depth and power of Paine’s thought:

In the course of filming Revenge of the Electric Car I became a little more sympathetic to the car industry in terms the way it impacts the global economy. Not just in Detroit in the obvious ways, but the workers in this industry all around the world. Also, lots of things that progressives like, like the show The West Wing, were largely supported by car advertising. This stuff went away when Detroit started to go under.

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