Car Culture, Indeed

The forces of reason and human progress have done a particularly lousy job of explaining the immense problems inherent in cars-first transportation, which remains, despite the times and for very deep reasons, a central project of corporate capitalism.

When such forces have dipped their toes into the pool of analysis, they have often done so by observing that, in America, we have a “car culture.” This, of course, is a tautology. The question is why we have a car culture.

Here, well-meaning folks have either parroted the longstanding — and hugely preposterous — quasi-official dogma that “Americans are having a love affair with the autmobile” is all there is to know about this key subject, or we have simply fallen silent, leaving such petulant falsehoods unchallenged.

I mention all this because one of the things that’s happened in the process is that, having chalked the topic of cars up to the realm of the inexplicable, the self-same forces of reason and progress have also stopped paying attention to how automobiles do indeed act and react as elements of American culture.

Consider, for example, yesterday’s multiply-gobsmacking announcement, by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, of “the most powerful SUV ever.”

Where would this corporation be without the continuing hold of toxic masculinity, nationalism, cowboy mythology, and sheer childishness? And, conversely, what would happen to those declining but still very pertinent trends among us “Americans,” if our main industry and #1 sponsorship source weren’t carefully perpetuating things like this?

We don’t know and generally don’t ask, in large part because the forces of reason and progress don’t pay any attention to such matters.

First World Problems

The automobile dominates the United States because it is the best possible platform for advancing the cause of sellable waste, which is itself a systemic requirement for the perpetuation of corporate capitalism.

The SUV/pickup breakthrough of the 1990s was a huge advance in the history of car-marketing, as we all know, but never properly discuss.

A socio-economic system addicted to unending expansion of sellable waste also implies the radical, unending commodification and commercialization of host societies.

Tracking and elucidating all this is, of course, one purpose of Death by Car.

Having been reminded of this, contemplate one of the latest logical manifestations of the whole shebang: the “Will it Fit?” feature of edmunds.com’s mobile device app:

Does that speak volumes, or what?

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.

Another Subsidy

media-car When capitalists and their minions work to undermine public transportation and/or cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, they invariably talk about public subsidies to those lifelines. It ought to be hilarious, given the scale and range of ways the public underwrites the supposedly “private” automobile.

The latest development on that latter front is the National Highway Traffic Subsidy Safety Administration’s announcement that it will be undertaking vehicle design research on an urgent basis. Per Automotive News:

DETROIT — A computer-driven car may not be commercially viable for at least another decade, but federal regulators are taking it seriously.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched a research project to figure out what sort of cockpit controls would be appropriate for a human motorist in a computer-driven vehicle.

Tim Johnson, NHTSA’s director of crash avoidance and electronic controls research, said the agency would conduct the $1.75 million research project with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

The researchers want to design controls that would enable a motorist to let the computer do the driving, then take over safely if the computer is flummoxed by an unexpected event.

“That is the work we are starting up right now,” Johnson said here Tuesday, Oct. 16, during the SAE Convergence 2012 conference sponsored by SAE International. “We are putting a high priority on this. We are trying to figure this out.”

Why is robo-car research such a high priority, you might wonder. It seems like — and might actually be — a pipedream.

The answer lies in photo at right above. Capitalists would love nothing more than to eventually free up people riding in automobiles to go ahead and participate as fully in mass media experiences while in-car as they do in-home. That would be a marketing bonanza, in a market-totalitarian society in which commuting time remains, along with sleep and paid work, a last, stubborn frontier.

Is it the role of the nation’s main transportation safety agency to be doing corporate capitalists’ exploratory research for them, especially in this area? Conversely, can you imagine the outcry if it started conducting product development research to advance the design and appeal of, say, light-rail trains?

Our grandchildren will be very amused by our present answers to that seemingly obvious questions.

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?

Fisker Goes Volt

Remember when the Chevy Volt was going to be an “electric” car, meaning one powered (confining one’s attention to the car itself) only by a battery? Remember how that worked out? Yep, a crappy, overpriced hybrid car with a gasoline-burning engine.

Remember, too, when Fisker Automotive was the cutting-edge “electric car” manufacturer that was going to put GM to shame with its sleek, truly high-tech products? Guess what’s happened to that publicly-subsidized promise? Yep, it, too, is vaporware. The next wave of Fisker products is going to have gasoline-burning engines.

Neither that fact, nor the laughable business performance of Fisker stops it from blowing massive smoke up the public’s backside. The model name for its (supposedly) forthcoming over-priced, gas-burning hybrid? The Fisker Nina. That’s right, Nina — as in the ship from the mini-armada that launched the Columbian Conquest/Columbian Exchange, a transition rightly described as the most significant event in human history since the rise of agriculture.

That’s about as subtle as a rock, and 100 percent pure baloney to boot.