hell with the high, the heavy, the hideous. Bring back the sleek, the
slim, the simple.
Today it's a truck-and-crossover industry. In fact,
almost six out of ten "cars" sold so far this year aren't cars at all;
they are non-cars ranging from monstrous crew-cab 4x4 pickup trucks to
anodyne blobs like the Buick Encore and Honda HR-V.Unless
something unexpected happens to change the way we buy
automobiles, the market share of non-cars is going to continue to
increase. Eventually, we will reach a tipping point where it simply
isn't worth an automaker's time to engineer and market a
traditionally-proportioned vehicle in most segments.Perhaps
we're already there. Unfortunately, the conventional station wagon was the first kind
of car to disappear from our showrooms, between ten and twenty years
ago; it was replaced by a horde of lifted pseudo-wagons that
weighed half a ton more than the cars they replaced and offered only a
simulacrum of additional utility.
The two-door coupe is not long for
this world, either. Today, most of the "coupes" being sold are
four-door hatchbacks that precisely mimic the form factor of the 1980
Chevrolet Citation, right down to the little curve in the rear
quarter-windows, but which have been burdened with an extra two or
three inches of unnecessary ride height.
BMW will sell you an X6
"coupe" which, properly speaking, should be called the X6-11 because it
looks exactly like a Citation X-11 with the nose from a Pontiac Grand
Am welded on as an afterthought.I'm
at a loss to explain exactly how all of this happened. The last time we
had this kind of major change in the auto business, it was driven by a
series of fuel crises and exasperation with domestic-automaker quality
issues both real and perceived. In retrospect, it's fairly obvious why
somebody would trade in a '79 Granada for an '84 Accord: You got twice
the gas mileage and more than twice the longevity at virtually no cost
in usable interior room. That's a practical, sensible decision.It's
not nearly as easy to understand why someone would trade a 2011 Accord
for a 2016 Pilot or CR-V. There's a substantial price penalty to be
paid for the "upgrade" to a crossover or SUV.
Fuel economy suffers.
Tires and brakes wear out quicker and cost more to replace.
handling of any lifted vehicle is always much, much worse than that of
the car from which it's derived.
Look at it this way: If you knew with
absolute certainty that your morning commute tomorrow would feature a
flatbed losing its cargo on the road ahead of you, scattering cars and
trucks in every which direction while you tried to steer and brake your
way to safety, would you rather be driving a Camry or a Highlander? A
BMW 530i or a BMW X5? A Porsche Cayman, or a Cayenne?To
choose a crossover instead of a car is to willingly give back virtually
all of the advances that we gained when we went from
Granadas to Accords. And what do you get in return? It can't be that
customers demand all-wheel-drive; that was offered in everything from
the Camry to the Tempo back in the Nineties and very few people stepped
up to pay the extra money. Most of the "SUVs" I see on the freeway
nowadays have an empty hole where the (optional) rear differential
would go anyway.Don't even get me started on the Explorer versus the Flex.Could
it be the utility you get with a CUV body style?
that the case, we'd all buy either station wagons or traditional
minivans, and you don't need to be an industry analyst to see that both
of those vehicle types suffer from extreme consumer disinterest in
2016. If people just wanted cargo space, the Accord Wagon would render
the Pilot irrelevant, when in fact precisely the opposite has occurred.
it's not about bad-weather capability, cargo capacity, or ease of
loading groceries. So what is it? Only this, I think: The idea, and the
appeal, of sitting up high. The perceived security of a high seating
position sold a lot of Wagoneers, Broncos, and even Range Rovers in the
Eighties and Nineties, but it wasn't until the Explorer and Grand
Cherokee made the SUV both socially acceptable and reasonably
affordable that more and more buyers started to really get used to the
idea of being able to see over traffic.This
led almost immediately to what was basically an arms race to get a
higher seating position. A few manufacturers, like Ford, even got into
the act with their full-sized cars, raising the hip point for no reason
other than to make a car feel more like an SUV to the driver. Toyota
further democratized the narrow-and-tall form factor with the original
RAV4, and the rest is history.In
2016, of course, owning a crossover or SUV no longer confers any
advantage in traffic, because everybody around you also has a crossover
or SUV. After a
while, what used to get you high just gets you by.
If you want to lord
it over traffic nowadays, you'd better find yourself an F-150.
yet, an F-250.
Maybe a Freightliner.
If you have a Range Rover
nowadays, congratulations! You can sit in traffic and look directly
into the eyes of the Enclave, Highlander, Pilot, and RX350 drivers
sitting all around you on the road.Today, commuting into downtown from a
reasonably prosperous suburb in something like an Accord means that
you'll be confronted at all times with a wall of orange-peel-painted
steel, three hundred and sixty degrees around you, filling every
window. I know this because I commute in a Mazda3. I'd
like to think that the next fuel crisis, when it appears, will send
people scurrying back to sensibly-proportioned vehicles, but I suspect
that it won't work out that way. Everybody will just get a hybrid
version of whatever bland box they're driving now. If things get really
bad, they'll just drive an electric version of said bland box, because
getting a smaller car that isn't as tall as a double-door Sub-Zero
refrigerator would be tantamount to making your Facebook status "i'm so
broke and poor lol."We
can't rely on market forces to get people back into cars. We're going
to have to do it ourselves. As a grassroots effort. If you have a real
car, then consider inviting your CUV-driving friends to go for a ride
with you somewhere. Initially they'll be terrified at being a full six
inches lower on the road. They may huddle in the footwell and sob
quietly, perhaps while trying to get an Uber SUV to pick them up for
the rest of the trip.
But then you can nonchalantly demonstrate some of
the benefits of a traditional automobile. Like being able to make a
lane change quickly without head-bobbing all the passengers. Or
performing cornering maneuvers that would stand a Santa Fe on its head.
You could even try applying the brakes enthusiastically while pointing
out that such an action does not result in the vehicle scraping its
front bumper on the ground.It
might work. Or it might just make your passenger throw up. Perhaps a more subtle, more
vicious method is required here. We should all start referring to any
unnecessarily lifted vehicle as a "minivan."Given
enough time and effort on all of our parts, we could make the high hip
This inexorable momentum of the marketplace towards the
bland and blobular could be halted in its tracks. Station wagons and
low-slung coupes could make a reappearance.
Who knows? If we all had to
face our fellow drivers on a more reasonable, dare I say more human
level, perhaps we might stop being so mean to each other on the road.
It could happen.
hell with the high, the heavy, the hideous. Bring back the sleek, the
slim, the simple.
In spite of the electronic overlay, cars today have phenomenal reliability,
by comparison with times gone by.(Well, maybe with one or two exceptions)
Most of these old style reliability issues can be blamed on the growing safety and clean-air
legislation, which diverted attention from other engineering details.
Busy with air-injection pumps and seatbelt buzzers and bumper heights,
car builders temporarily forgot about such manufacturing virtues as
sound metallurgy, easy servicing and quality control.Nightmarishly
complex pollution systems were pasted onto what had been elegantly
clean designs. The VW Beetle and the MGB metamorphosed from simple, inviting
machines that were fun to work on to minor monstrosities that were
You couldn't make them run much better—within the
letter of the law—and the customer nearly always went away disappointed
or mad. The intake plumbing on the still-carbureted Datsun 260Z was
enough to make a man lay down his wrenches forever.
at one time, turned an SU type, floating needle valve, carburetor on
its side and tried to control everthing with a myriad of vacuum
tubes full of micro switches. It didn't work and even in those days,
the cost of a replacement carburetor was rapidly worth more than the
rest of the car.English
cars were especially hard hit by the era. Their lack of stamina and
need for frequent servicing (de-carbonising cylinder heads at 15,000 miles!)
had always been mitigated by charm and simplicity. But the specter of a British car that was both unreliable
and hard to work on was too much for most buyers, and by the end of the
decade nearly all of them were gone. Beyond engineering problems and federal regulations, there was also an other viper lurking in the old woodpile. Attitude. It
was a spinoff from the Sixties. Probably at no time in world history
did more union people consider their corporate employers to be some sort of
bottomless well of paychecks and benefits, for which very little had to
be traded in exchange.
Worse yet, there were actually political virtues
ascribed to poor productivity. Sloppy workmanship was a blow at the
System. Think of it: At last, incompetence as duty! England is still
reeling from two generations of workers who thought their real job was
to alienate the customers, put the company out of business and build
Paradise in the ashes of capitalism. The head of the miners' union commuted to Moscow monthly until Mrs Thatcher came along.Same thing in the USA, the basic worker credo was to
sneak off behind a pile of boxes and sleep on the job. It was a neat
trick on the people in the neckties. (Who were giving themselves big
raises while not minding the store, incidentally.) Also, their neckties
kept them away from dangerous machinery, and from mingling with the few
people who knew what was going on. Or from looking behind that dusty
pile of boxes. What's
most interesting about the era is that the Japanese were doing none of
these things. And during that decade, as others were dropping the ball,
cars from the East were slowly getting better and better. They never
lost sight of the simple fact that price and value are better long-term
sales tools than patriotism. Or that the primary function of business
is, not just to make a profit, but to
get customers and keep them. Profit follows that impulse, but seldom
leads it for very long. So
we all got a little bit behind in the Seventies, and catching up and
achieving parity continues to be hard work—and is perhaps the most
important job of this century. Fortunately,
that old layabout industrial attitude is essentially dead now, about as
dated as double-knit polyester suits, despite a certain persistence of the
image. People who do low-quality work—at any level—are now regarded by
their peers as something of a pariah, rather than looked up to as
We will always have a few shiftless workers—and
overpaid executives— but they are a philosophic throwback, like Red
Guards or junk-bond dealers. No one admires them, and they have nothing
to do with the future. The
Seventies, thankfully, are gone in another big way too: Cars from
everywhere in the world are infinitely better now than 15 or 20 years ago. The whole
repair business has changed. The expendable parts, such as tires, belts
and brake shoes, still need replacing, and oil changes and tuneups
still need to be done, but much less frequently. Most engine
compartments are now elegantly clean and uncluttered again, thanks
largely to compact, well-engineered fuel-injection systems. And unless
people forget to replace a high-mileage timing belt, or drive around with
a blown radiator hose and no coolant, engines seldom fail. Newer cars generally don't need engine rebuilds until well past 100,000 miles now or any other major work for that matter. No
doubt there are still a few lemons out there right now, being designed
or built. 10 years from now when we look back on the present decade, we'll find that
bad cars were the exceptions, rather than a way of life.
Or a living.
that we know that cash is king as VW settles its' emissions claims, I
am repeating a blog that I wrote about 5 weeks ago, since my advice
remains steadfastly the same: Take the money and run!
it was VW, then Mitsubishi, now FIAT and make no mistake about it, the
rest of the car industry is equally guilty of commonsense in the face
of the fanaticism that prevails among the econazis., they just haven't
been caught - yet!
(Maybe British cars will be much better now they don't have to completely comply with the demands of the econazis in Brussels!)
What is going on and what should a poor car owner do?
bureaucrats in the EPA and in Brussels looked up at the ceiling and in
a moment of religious fervor, decided on the emissions levels that they
wanted for carbon burning vehicles, never mind if they were achievable
The engineers in the auto manufacturing groups knew
instantly that these demands of purity could not possibly be achieved
and many questioned the assumption that their petrol burning creations
were even responsible for the the climate change that many doubted even
existed, or had even been proven to a decent level of engineering
(There are so many well documented scandals
concerning the way that beholden so-called scientists have fudged the
figures on global temperature change that their credibility is in
So what did all these practical engineers do?
manipulated their engine management software to give the fanatics what
they think they wanted, at the same time giving the car owner a car
that was not only a lively, responsive thing to drive, but one that
produced spectacular increases in fuel economy.
They should all be awarded a medal for practical commonsense in the face of stupid bureaucratic meddling.
So what now?
It all depends on what you get offered.
you cannot re-licence your car until the software has been modified,
you're screwed and your car will never feel the same again. Both from a
driveability point of view or that of fuel economy.
The last thing you want to do is go anywhere a dealership that insists on changing your engine management soft ware.
If you get offered a cash payment with no strings attached, take it and be happy.
you get offered a buy back, it will be at the depreciated, used car
value, and not what you paid when the car was new. In this case it
comes down to a financial calculation rather than one which directly
concerns the vehicle.
The bottom line is:
NOT HAVE YOU CARS' ENGINE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE MODIFIED UNLESS YOU HAVE
NO OTHER CHOICE, OR UNLESS, YOU'RE A FOAMING AT THE MOUTH ECONUT.
Decommissioning wind turbines: a growing problem!
wants to be all electric by 2030! The way things are going, they won't
have anywhere NEAR enough power to charge millions of car batteries. A
bureaucratic disaster in the making.
It has long been a pioneer in the field of renewable energy, generating a
record 78 percent of its power consumption from renewables in July of
this year. In fact, Germany is one of the very few countries in the
world that is actually struggling with too much renewable energy. The
latest testimony to this fact is the new issue of decommissioning its
old wind farms.2011
was a turning point for the European giant as it started moving away
from nuclear energy (post Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster) and began
to replace it with renewables. However, wind energy made its foray in
Germany well before 2011. Germany started building wind turbines in the
mid-1990s and now there are almost 25,000 wind turbines in the country.However,
the problem now is that a large number of the 25,000 odd turbines have
become too old. Close to 7,000 of those turbines will complete more
than 15 years of operation by next year. Although these turbines can
continue running, with some minor repairs and modifications, the
question is whether it makes any economic sense to maintain them?Efficiency is the keyBeyond
a period of 20 years, the guaranteed tariffs that are set for wind
power are terminated, thereby making them unprofitable. “Today, there
are entirely different technologies than there were a decade ago. The
performance of the turbines have multiplied, the turbines are also more
efficient than before”, said Dirk Briese of market research company
called Wind- Research. It therefore makes sense to replace old turbines
with newer ones. However, it is not very easy to dismantle an existing
turbine and, while there are companies like PSM that specialize in
dismantling of wind turbines, the costs of decommissioning can run
upwards of $33,500 per turbine.The
process of decommissioning a wind farm is a complicated one as it
requires at least two 150 ton cranes which are used to dismantle the
turbines, tower houses, rotor blades and other related equipment and
parts. In fact, offshore wind decommissioning is even more intricate
and expensive, as the availability of shipping vessels, cost of
shipping the components back on shore and cost of removing steel
pillars form seabed need to be considered too.Wind
farm decommissioning is indeed going to be a universal problem,
especially for countries like the United States where a large number of
wind projects are being developed. The U.S. has more than 48,000
utility operated wind turbines and more than 18 million American homes
are powered every single year by the country’s installed wind capacity.
Even corporations such as Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, IKEA, Mars,
Walmart and Amazon have invested in the U.S. wind energy sector.The
numbers above suggest that the U.S. is going to face a similar problem
that Germany is now facing may be in the next 8- 10 years when its
oldest wind farms become outdated. However, a lot depends upon the
efficiency and technology of turbines that are in use. Even if around
30 percent of U.S. wind turbines need decommissioning in the next five
to ten years, the total decommissioning costs could reach up to $1
billion (when we consider a decommissioning rate of $55,000 and above
Hydro Quebec has spent a fortune persuading consumers to conserve energy.
For the sake of the planet, you assume?
of the kind. Hydro can sell its' surplus energy to the US states for
much more money than the subsidized price they charge at home and
THAT's their motivation.
Norway wants to sell its oil into the open market at much higher
prices, while it sells off its' hydro power to the unfortunate, locked
in, Norwegians who will have no choice but to buy an electric (not
No indication as yet, whether gasoline
burning cars from other countries will be stopped at the border, but
most likely not, since the fuel being used has already embellished the
Norwegian coffers! However, they won't be able to stay too long since
presumably, there will be no gas stations in Norway anymore.
motors are not as futuristic as many think. They were around in the
late 1800s and lost to internal combustion technology then because of
their inferior practicality. Still, General Motors Company, Ford Motor
Company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and, of course, BMW, Mercedes,
Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, and many others all have some version of a
zero-emission car in their pipelines.
While the GMs and Fords of this world
acknowledge they have to offer electric cars to meet market demand,
the Tesla is different. The company embodies its founder’s messianic “save
the earth” vision. Yet there’s evidence to suggest Elon Musk drinks his
a vociferous and overly gullible group of people goes on about Tesla’s
superior environmental rigor, there is an ugly side to electric cars in general. Doubtless, 375,000 pre-orders for the as yet unavailable Tesla “Model 3” in just
72 hours speaks loudly: there is a market for a cheap electric
mid-sized sedan that announces to the world, to borrow from Birdman, “I
put some respek” on the environment.But
if you were really one to put respect on the environment, you would do
the planet a bigger favor by buying a used car. Indeed, “reduce,”
“reuse,” and “recycle,” are the buzzwords of environmentalism.Those
who drive classics cut back on imported steel, rare earths, and
graphite to make the cars. They put much less pressure on the power
grid and the coal power and oil fracking that fuels it.While
the Model 3’s $35,000 sticker price is unrealistic, it would still be a
good value at $50,000. However, fewer people (i.e. fewer budding
environmentalists) will be able to afford it. GM, Ford, and others will
have cheaper electrics out before Tesla. Why did their stocks not rise
on the Norway 2025 plans?There’s
also the fact that electric vehicles can create major environmental
damage with their lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which are not easily
which proposed similar legislation to Norway’s a few weeks ago, has
already experienced the boomerang effect of placing too much credit on
electric cars’ alleged environmental superiority.Holland
wants to improve the environment, reducing pollution and emissions. All
of this is good, but it could backfire. Those who buy electric cars for
environmental goals might end up finding themselves in the same
situation as those who bought a Volkswagen before the recent scandal. Indeed,
the boom (no pun intended, hinting at the frequent battery fires) in
electric cars will actually increase the energy needs of the country.
That’s great for Norway, which has a small population that is barely
the size of Manhattan’s and plenty of hydroelectric power. However, how
realistic is it for the United States or any other dense European, let
alone Asian or African, country?
A single so-called green car with one
charge consumes as much electricity as a refrigerator in a month and a
half. The Dutch government, to cope with its poorly considered
legislation, has opened three new economic super-polluting coal-fired
power plants, two of which were built in Rotterdam.
cars have simply shifted the responsibility for polluting from the city
to the suburban environment, where most coal—or in some cases,
nuclear—plants are located. As for the CO2 emissions everyone is so
keen to cut back on, nothing changes.Eventually,
someone will wake up to that reality and electric cars won’t appear as
cool anymore. They will actually have to compete in the market as cars
rather than methods to correct their rich human drivers from
environmental sins like some charlatan preacher.
41) In praise of the good old station
44) Future shock,
in you car.
for annual safety
51) The piston
engine is going
to be with us for a very,
very long time.
offs in the car repair
58) Electronic brake force distribution.
- no contest.
Why flushing brake
oil makes sense.
64) When should
I change my oil?
66) W/W antifreeze
68) Recirc A/C
car radiation danger
Fuel saving devices
75) Scheduling appointments.
Modern design of