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To 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.
The 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?

Were 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.

No, 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.
Better 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 point uncool.

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.

To hell with the high, the heavy, the hideous. Bring back the sleek, the slim, the simple.

Jack Baruth.

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 virtually untunable.

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.

Toyota 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 renegade heroes.

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.

Now 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!

First, 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?

The 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 or not.

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 credibility.

(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 tatters.)

So what did all these practical engineers do?

They 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.
If 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.

If 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:


Decommissioning wind turbines: a growing problem!

Germany 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 key

Beyond 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 per turbine).

Hydro Quebec has spent  a fortune persuading consumers to conserve energy.

For the sake of the planet, you assume?

Nothing 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.

Equally, 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 hybrid!) car.

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.

Electric 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 own “Kool-Aid.”

While 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 recyclable.

Holland, 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.

Electric 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. 

Other blogs worth reading

41) In praise of the good old station wagon.

44) Future shock, the unending complication of electronic devices in you car.

47)  The case for annual safety inspections.

51) The piston engine is going to be with us for a very, very long time.

52) Avoiding rip offs in the car repair business.

58) Electronic brake force distribution.

61) Hydrogen vs electricity - no contest.

63) Why flushing brake oil makes sense.

64) When should I change my oil?

66) W/W antifreeze and long term warranties.

67) Nitrogen

68) Recirc A/C

70) Electric car radiation danger

71) Fuel saving devices that don't

75) Scheduling appointments.

78 Modern design of alternators and batteries.