Archive for Driver’s Seat

Sometimes stroked, always bored

P. J. O’Rourke once noted that pickup trucks tended to have eight cylinders, which was too many, or four cylinders, which was not enough. This would seems to be an argument for six cylinders, a happy medium if you will, but actual cars, as distinguished from trucks, to the extent that you can distinguish them from trucks (curse you, crossovers), seem to be migrating to four-bangers, a phenomenon which, to Jack Baruth, is just this side of hellish:

As a design, the inline-four is both banal and inadequate. The intake hangs off one side and the exhaust off the other, so when you open the hood it looks unbalanced and cheap. ​Enlarged to modern two-liter-plus proportions, this lack of balance makes it want to shake itself to death. At idle it rattles; at full revs it moans. Instead of the dual-megaphone mufflers associated with powerful V8s, the most efficient four-cylinder exhaust is a massive coffee can hanging off one side of the bumper.

Defending the fart can? Horrors!

Yet the unloved inline-four plows on. It’s cheap to make, cheap to modify. It fits in everything from a small motorcycle to a 5-Series BMW. It can be turbocharged to serve as a poor replacement for a more colorful six. This strategy, employed by the high-end German manufacturers and the Koreans alike, makes it easier to pass CO2-related regulations. So what if the resulting concoction sounds like a paint shaker? You muffle it to death and then play a fake engine sound through the stereo. Nobody knows the difference.

I am told that a hybrid system with an inline four is destined for the BMW 7-series, which just seems wrong for a car that can also be had with a V-12 fercrissake.

And fake engine noises, say I, are an abomination unto the Lord: if He had wanted us to waste our audio systems on such things He would have made AM the dominant form of radio.


Every time you buy a car that has something besides the ubiquitous inline-four, you are striking a blow for automotive character. You’re making a statement that you want steak, not Spam.

In my life I have owned six cars with a total of thirty cylinders: a straight six, two V-6s, and three inline fours. Then again, the budget doesn’t permit me to eat a whole hell of a lot of steak.

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The Kremlin Town Car

That’s not the name, but that’s definitely the idea:

The Russian government plans to launch production of new limousines and premium cars in 2017 as part of the Cortege project at NAMI, the country’s central automobile and engine R&D institute in Moscow.

The RR33 billion ($500 million) project envisions production of 30,000 vehicles a year.

Development will not necessarily be entirely in-house:

The project may involve the participation of global automakers such as Porsche, which may provide engines for the new vehicles. Global manufacturers also may contribute design expertise.

As one might expect, these cars are not designed to worship at the altar of Fuel Economy:

NAMI staff have completed the design of a single platform for the Cortege limousines and cars. The vehicles will have four different types of gasoline engines, the most powerful of which is a 7.0L V-12 generating 800-850 hp.

What, no diesels? And we know where that V-12 is going:

NAMI director Maxim Nagaitsev says the limousine to be built for [President Vladimir] Putin will be the world’s largest passenger vehicle.

Cadillac had better get to work on an escalated Escalade.

(Via Ed Niedermeyer.)

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Clear that lot

Because you can’t spell “sales gimmick” without GMC:

GMC Sierra sale ad from mid-November 2015

I like that. A deal on models “in stock the longest,” although it’s limited to the oldest 10% on the lot. Still, that could be a hell of a lot of trucks in pickup-crazed areas like, well, the United States of America, with the notable exception of San Francisco, which has no GMC dealers.

This ad, incidentally, was found on Equestria Daily. Ponyville, I’m sure, has no GMC dealers.

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Subtotal recall

As was once said in a wholly different context, there can be only one:

Rolls-Royce have revealed what must be the world’s smallest ever vehicle recall.

Amid the millions of vehicles being recalled worldwide in the Takata air bag issue, BMW Group, the owner of the luxury Rolls-Royce brand, is recalling one — yep, one — of its 2015 Ghost models manufactured on January 23, 2014.

Perhaps it’s tied for smallest: supercar manufacturer Koenigsegg recalled one 2013 Agera for potential problems with its tire-pressure monitoring system. (Total ’13 Ageras sold in the US: one.)

(Via Fark.)


Hob knobbing

Sliders belong in ballparks and bags of cheap burgers. They do not belong on most people’s audio gear:

When it comes to audio equipment, sliders were popular with some people and maybe they still are. They got some cachet when big mixing panels used in theaters and recording studios came out from behind their curtain. Oh, cool! thought I and a bunch of other people. They might be okay in their original applications, or where space is at a premium and you need to cram in a bunch of seldom used controls into a tiny patch of panel, but for everyday audio controls they suck.

You grab hold of a rotary control it is easy to tell how far you have turned it, even if the knob is on a radio mounted in the dashboard of car that is bouncing down a pothole filled road. Try adjusting a slider under those conditions and you can’t, not with any degree of precision. You can’t even adjust a slider accurately without being able to see it so you can tell how far it has move. Okay, maybe this is a personal problem. Maybe sliders don’t cause you any difficulty.

Not that much, really, but in automotive applications, they’re pretty much useless because you have to look at them, while you’re supposed to be looking at the road. Those newfangled touchscreens have much the same problem, magnified further if you started digging into the French fries before you got home with the burgers.

That said, the Big Receiver in the house — forty years old now — has ten sliders to run the equalizer. I think I set them once in 2003 when I moved in, and haven’t touched them since. The volume control is a proper knob. And in the car, where Bose has festooned the head unit with no fewer than thirteen buttons (not including Eject), the volume control is a proper knob.

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Exterior matters

“The real belle of the automotive ball,” says a TTAC commenter, “is Vicki Vlachakis.”

Well, you don’t have to prod me twice:

Vicki Vlachakis on top of a tool chest

Vlachakis grew up in Pasadena, California, and studied at the Art Center College of Design. Hired by Mercedes-Benz, she relocated to Germany, but returned to take an offer by General Motors, eventually becoming the manager of GM’s west-coast Advanced Design Studio. Working from Franz von Holzhausen’s original concept, she developed the interior for the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky twin roadsters.

Vicki Vlachakis in a Pontiac Solstice

After taking her leave of the General, she set up a handbag operation called Nooni, and then disappeared entirely. I’d love to see where she turns up next.

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This started out as a legitimate inquiry:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: What MPG does a 2004 Ford Expedition get?

And then it went downhill quickly:

Looking to buy an SUV and came across an ad for a 2004 Ford Expedition XLT NBX 5.4L 4WD. The first thing I wondered was what is it’s MPG? Online says it gets 14/18, but the same source says my Dakota gets 12/17 and it averages 16 mpg around town. I am hoping there is somebody out there who has/had one and knows the exact MPG … or what you get at least.

Anyone who believes there is such a thing as “exact MPG” deserves to get single-digit mileage. Or worse.

Incidentally, reports 12/16, so I have no idea what this character means by “online.”

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Bassist points

Tom Hamilton, bass player for Aerosmith since the very beginning, writes to Car and Driver:

I was reading your fine magazine, as I have done for my entire adult life, when I came upon the article about the study of aerodynamics called “Aerosmithing” [September 2015].

I was puzzled and delighted at the same time as I wondered about the possible connection between that word and the name of my band. I think just for the fun of it, I’m going to conclude that the writer and the editor had us in mind when the title came to be. Maybe now we’ll make it into the dictionary!

I’d bet almost anything that Hamilton is right about the mag’s intentions; but inevitably, there came a squelch — in fact, the perfect squelch:

Dream on—Ed.

This is why I have been reading this fine magazine for [most of] my entire adult life.

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Somehow “Dawdler” wasn’t taken

Roberta X drew driving duty in a Freightliner/Dodge/Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, but regardless of the badge, she didn’t like it much:

It’s ferociously underpowered. Maybe if it was kitted out with plumber’s tools and supplies or filled with parcels to be delivered, it would be fine, but in my trade, we mount thousands of pounds of equipment in these vans. 0-60 is a matter of a couple of minutes; okay, I can deal with that, see “Suzuki Samurai” above.* But the brakes are frighteningly spongy and slowing or stopping is more of a request than a command. Steering is a little soft and tends to hunt. None of these are so bad as to make the vehicle dangerous — but when you put, oh, me at the wheel and head into bumper-to-bumper, 65 mph, multi-lane traffic on a route where highways merge and split and some of the exits require getting across two and four lanes merging into six in what seems like barely enough distance, it’s a recipe for white knuckles.

It’s been a while, but I remember “ferociously underpowered”: I learned how to drive in a second-generation Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus, sporting a whole 47 horsepower from somewhere way in the back. Still, this version of the Bus, having shed the old VW swing-axle rear end, was relatively stable unless the winds picked up; I imagine the Sprinter, being a tall and tippy device by design, probably wants to go several directions at once.

Regarding the Samurai, she says:

The tough little baby SUV has a sub-one-liter engine about the size of an old-fashioned tabletop sewing machine and nearly the same horsepower-to-weight ratio as a full semi tractor-trailer. They’re pretty good up to 45 mph if you flirt with the red line and don’t mind doing a lot of shifting but at freeway speeds, it runs with the trucks. The drivers seem greatly amused by this.

The owners, by and large, loved it despite its lack of suds; Suzuki actually bothered to give the little wagon a proper 4WD drivetrain with a transfer case and a low range. The Jimny, to give it its Japanese designation, is still in production for some markets, though not this market.

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Someone ostensibly in control

TTAC’s Aaron Cole, on the weakest link in traffic today:

[E]ven though fatal crashes are proportionately declining, year-over-year, the least-reliable components of cars — drivers — are still the least regulated.

To be safe at any speed, it’s clear that automakers should be held to a higher standard to reduce human interaction or increase driver attention.

Not gonna happen, says Jack Baruth:

The cynic in me wants to yell, “WHAT ABOUT BOTH, HUH? HOW ABOUT MAKING THE WHOLE CAR AUTONOMOUS AND STILL MAKING SOME POOR BASTARD SIT IN THE ‘DRIVER’ SEAT WITH HIS EYES PEELED OPEN LIKE A CLOCKWORK ORANGE AND THE SAME PERIODIC SHOCKS TO THE CORTEX THEY GAVE HARRISON BERGERON? IS THAT ENOUGH?” But then I return to reality. And in the American reality, there is not going to be any improvement in driver’s education, nor will American drivers get any “better”. Save your leather-fetishist fantasies of outrageously expensive Swedish driver’s licenses that include two years’ worth of skidpad training and a mandatory WRC podium. That’s not how America works. It’s also not how Europe will work once the the majority of the population adheres to sharia law. Ask the British how easy it is to get a massive extra-cultural immigrant base to obey homegrown motor-vehicle regulations of any kind.

Okay, there is one possibility, but you’re not going to like it:

If the American driver cannot be improved, then he must be stripped of his power to guide the car. Yet that cannot be done — not yet. The autonomous vehicle, as it exists now, is basically a terrified senior citizen. It doesn’t see very well, it isn’t always certain where it is, it has trouble interacting with other traffic in a predictable manner, and it slows down the traffic around it. Its primary virtue, as with a terrified senior citizen, is the low speed at which it operates. So we could obtain all these safety benefits for Americans in a heartbeat by making 25 mph the maximum speed limit off the freeways and 45 mph the limit on limited-access roads. Presto, watch deaths from traffic collisions disappear even as deaths from road-rage murders skyrocket.

I take heart in the fact that everyone who has ever said “If it saves just one life…” is, or eventually will be, dead.

In the meantime, have a Twisted Tune:

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Careful with that zygote, Eugene

From Lawrence Ulrich’s first drive of the new BMW 7-series, in Automobile (December):

The lean, new body wears rather conservative clothing. The exterior is stately and tasteful but safer than the sex in a Planned Parenthood brochure.

I have no idea what this could possibly mean, and I’m not so sure Ulrich does either.


Pep rallies

Pep Boys stock rose 23 percent on the news that Bridgestone is buying them out:

Japanese tire giant Bridgestone agreed Monday to buy Pep Boys for $835 million and potentially create the largest chain of U.S. automotive service centers, the companies announced.

The deal would create a chain of more than 3,000 auto care stores — 2,200 Bridgestone-owned centers including Tires Plus, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Hibdon Tires Plus and Wheel Works, and more than 800 company-owned Pep Boys stores.

According to the companies the deal will finalize in early 2016.

One assumes that the iconic icons of Manny, Moe and Jack will remain intact after the acquisition.

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Spinning the wrong wheels

“It’s either me or that damn car,” she says:

3 long years ago… I decided to save for a new car after driving my Toyota Corolla 09. I had friends who bought civics “ultimate rice car” and they wanted me to join their crew. I was honestly jealous and was almost tempted to just buy one and make it a project car but I told myself I’m doing it for myself or my friends. It was just that teen vibe of riding with you re friends and feeling cool with loud exhaust you know.. Considering I did not get that with my corrolla. Any whom 3 years later I bought my DREAM CAR Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. Around an year an a half I met my girlfriend who now is threating me to break up with me due to me spending to much on modifying my car. She hates it but I love it. I’ve tried to explain to her everything why I do it and that I love working on cars… Anyways now she wants me to sell it or she will “break up with me”. (She is doing this because we are struggling financially and selling it would help a lot.. But I just don’t see myself doing it.) She says it’s “slowly tearing us apart before our own eyes”. I love her dearly… I love my car dearly.. I’d just like people’s opinions is all.

It’s pretty obvious to me: he values “feeling cool with loud exhaust” more than an actual, breathing female.

The amusing aspect of this, I suppose, is contemplating the vast number of clueless goobs out there who believe that driving the right wheels will bring them romance, or at least an occasional grope in the back seat. (Cars which lack a back seat — well, that’s another matter entirely.)

He may take comfort in the fact that Mitsu is dumping the Evo after generation ten, and he might even end up with a collector’s item if he doesn’t wrap the damnfool thing around a tree.

As for me, I’ve been to this neighborhood: after I got married, one of my first instructions was to get rid of my scary old ’66 Chevy Nova, the fright factor of which was derived, not from its speed, but from its junkyard-ready appearance. There were, I concluded, better things to break up over.

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What goes (somewhat) around

It seems unlikely that the Fisker Karma failed in the marketplace because of its name, but you have to wonder about Henrik Fisker’s future prospects:

Karma is a Sanskrit word that translates literally to “action” or “fate”; in Hinduism and Buddhism it signifies (per Collins English Dictionary) “the principle of retributive justice” or (per American Heritage Dictionary) “the totality of a person’s actions and conduct during successive incarnations.” Bad actions lead to reincarnation in a lower order of being; good actions lead to rebirth in the higher orders.

In other words, if in a past life (say, 2011) you manufactured an unpopular car, in the next life (say, 2015) you are unlikely to prosper.

Meanwhile, China’s Wanxiang Group, which acquired the rights to the car, will restart production next year (maybe) under the Elux brand name. Maybe they can do something with it. So far, Maximum Bob Lutz hasn’t:

During Fisker’s Congressional investigation and plant shutdown, Lutz and his jet-fighter-flying partner, Gilbert Villarreal, had 20 Karma gliders waiting for a transplant and 100 orders. Lutz also said he had Karma owners interested in converting their cars to Destinos so they wouldn’t become “boat anchors.” Production was supposed to start last fall, although when we asked today, VL said it was “still working out the details” and would not comment further. The VL Destino comes with either the Corvette Stingray’s LT1 450-hp V-8 or the old ZR1’s 638-hp supercharged V-8, offering shoppers a choice of a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.

For “today,” read “20 February 2014.” Later that year, VL Automotive merged with WM Greentech. The renamed WM Destino remains vaporware, albeit really fast and expensive vaporware. Whatever cards Wanxiang may be holding, they’re being held close to the corporate vest. As for Fisker himself, we haven’t heard a word.

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Curses, spoiled again

Gwendolyn has a bustle. Okay, it’s a spoiler, a wing-ish sort of thing that creates the illusion of aerodynamics, though it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference in Real (which is to say, off-track) Life. It wasn’t a factory job, either: the first owner of this car — I’m the second — had it pasted into place for some reason. And it does serve a purpose: it’s easy to spot in the parking lot, peculiar horizontal tailfin that it is. Nor is she alone in her, um, adornment:

Adding spoilers to cars — à la the Fast & Furious franchise — is an age-old pastime of gear heads and car enthusiasts alike. Sure, adding a spoiler to your 12-year-old Civic might in actuality make it slower. But, visually, it feels like it’s faster with a spoiler … and isn’t that most important?

If I want the sensation of going faster, I push down with the right foot. But maybe that’s just me. And there’s one place, however unlikely it may seem, where multiple spoilers might do something wonderful:

Yokohama, in collaboration with a team from Japan’s Tohoku University, is testing some new radial tires complete with spoilers on their sidewalls. Besides making the tires look downright Jurassic, the fins have been proven to improve air flow underneath the car, Yokohama says.

I have to admit, I like the concept:

[T]he fins hit pinnacle performance at the top and bottom of the spin, as the tire rotates. At the top of the spin, the fins reduce drag. At the bottom of the rotation, the fins aid in curbing lift.

The result is that the tires not only allow the vehicle to be more stable and safer at speed, but also more efficient.

Maybe these will be on the market by the next time I need tires.

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They say this is what they want

Even the most carefully selected focus group is still a focus group, and cannot be relied upon to produce optimal results. Example:

University of Stirling professor of psychology Peter Hancock’s idea of the perfect car for the UK doesn’t seem to be meant as a serious proposition. Prof. Hancock isn’t suggesting that some automaker should adopt and produce the design, but instead it seems to be sort of a thought experiment built off the back of a survey conducted with around 2,000 participants.

The survey asked a few basic questions: What is your favorite car? Which aspect is the most attractive? And so on. After tallying around 3,800 data points, Prof. Hancock identified the most attractive individual elements of the cars that were mentioned.

And God forbid some automaker actually consider that list of elements worth emulating, because we’d end up with something totally terrible, like, well, this:

Composite of Hancock's data on a single vehicle

Yeah, that low, low Aston Martin snoot goes so well with those sternly upright Rolls-Royce suicide doors and those scary Mini eyeballs.

It might be better than Johnny Cash’s ’53 ’49-’73 Cadillac, assembled from parts gathered one piece at a time, but not much.

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Meanwhile on 287

“Yep. That’s exactly how it is.” And by “that,” I mean this:

Miss D. and I arrived in Wichita Falls this afternoon after a pleasant drive from Amarillo. We were warned about the speed-trapping proclivities of various towns along the route, some of which appear to balance their budgets by means of tickets issued to those passing through. For that reason we kept our cruise control locked on to the speed limit, and took care to observe the progressively lower limits every time we entered a town.

This seemed to cause some … concern … to other motorists. You see, our rented car is a model used by a large number of police forces, and it’s painted black, and we were driving exactly at the speed limit. Almost every vehicle that came steaming up behind us (and there were many) slowed down and matched our speed for a while, drifting closer very carefully. It was clear the drivers thought we were an unmarked cop car. As soon as they got close enough to identify our Tennessee license plate, one could almost hear the exasperated exclamation from inside the cab as they put the pedal to the metal once more and rolled past us. It was rather amusing (at least from our perspective).

If rental agencies were in the habit of ordering dog-dish hubcaps — well, you can see how this would affect other occupants of the road.

Up here on the other side of the Red River, the unmarked cop cars tend to look like something other than cop cars, but every town has at least one decommissioned Crown Vic Police Interceptor somewhere. (We’ve had a rash of cases of impersonating the police of late, too.)

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Lazarus edition

The announcement came out in 2014: the last model year for Volkswagen’s Eos convertible would be 2015, and VW of America duly readied a loaded Final Edition model to give the model a proper sendoff. I do hope none of the buyers see the new 2016 Eos:

Volkswagen extended production of the Eos from May to November of this year. As part of that, parent Volkswagen shopped the Eos around to all its regional children looking for hand raisers to take a limited run of 2016s.

VWoA accepted, probably because the mothership was willing to give them $4000 off the price of, um, last year’s. (The Canadian branch, however, turned it down.)


It’ll never catch on

I am indebted to Rob O’Hara for this traffic-law update:

Just a reminder that as of last Friday, a new Oklahoma City ordinance says you must signal 100 feet before changing lanes or turning. The old law stated that you had to signal prior to changing lanes but did not officially state the distance.

We have major scofflaws in this town: just about every other day you can spot someone who’s come to a complete stop in the left lane and only then turned on the blinker. Must be trying to save fluid or something. I figure, if they ignored the old rule, they’ll go on ignoring the new one, despite the $172 fine.

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In tune with the universe

Yesterday, yours truly offered this post-commute grumble:

Not quite half an hour later:

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation will present a public meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6, to provide information and solicit public input on a future project to replace the I-35 bridges over N.E. 63rd St. and to make improvements to the I-35 ramps to westbound I-44 in Oklahoma City.

ODOT will present alternative designs to the public and is requesting input as part of the environmental clearance process before construction can begin. The meeting will include presentation of detailed information and opportunities for the public to ask questions and give input. The public comment period closes Oct. 20.

Reconstruction of the bridges at N.E. 63rd St. and I-35 is scheduled in ODOT’s Eight-Year Construction Work Plan for Federal Fiscal Year 2020. The placement of the bridges is dependent on the preferred alignment of I-35 selected from the study.

Among other things, one of the schemes is to make the westbound onramp to I-44 two lanes, which presumably will reduce the number of doofi who can’t figure out what lane they’re supposed to be in when they start up that new, higher bridge.

Today’s problem, at least, was easily visible: rubberneckers just north of US 62, and some actual rubber in the roadway a few yards beyond.

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Don’t just do something, sit there

Persuading the general public to accept self-driving cars will require an awful lot of demonstration along these lines:

Then again: Volvo, right? They’re not going to let you plunge into the abyss.

Now if someone can give me the tester’s phone number, that would be really great.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)


Tricky handling

Hyundai has been showing off something they call the Vision G Concept, and while it’s not specifically slated for production itself, we can probably expect some of its features to show up on actual cars before too awfully long.

Hyundai Vision G Concept

Concept cars, of course, are almost always two-door coupes; no one goes to an auto show to see a four-door sedan. Then again, it would presumably be interesting to see a four-door version of this thing, since apparently it doesn’t have any door handles.

Wait, what?

We pick up the story from Jonny Lieberman in Motor Trend (November):

[T]he door handles … are not in fact on the doors. I asked, and the reason why is that when you have doors more than 3 feet in length, you have to take a few steps back while opening them in a conventional fashion. With the handle on the body panel behind the door, you simply push (or in this case swipe), wait as the automatic door opens, and then step inside.

Lieberman thinks this is not a great idea:

Call me old-fashioned, but it seems to me that if you’re a door handle, job one is to be on the door.

If this, um, feature shows up on a production Hyundai, I will be surprised, and not necessarily pleasantly so. That said, for all I know it might be the biggest hit since the fake hood scoop.

(Photo via

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The government will assign you a car

This sounds rather a lot like a Woody Allen description: ” … one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism.”

Okay, you listen to him:

I am confused after seeing a nice, newer corvette had a big Bernie Sanders 2016 lawn sign on its dashboard. Doesn’t add up?

And these are the bits of the equation he can’t combine:

An older, white women exited the car, not that that should matter. I wasn’t stalking her, I just like analyzing nice cars. I thought if anything, the sign would be supporting a Republican. It seems so very hypocritical, deeply ironic, utterly contradictory. Sure, Bernie wants everyone to be wealthy … is that her argument? Sounds like anyone would argue that. Socialists want everyone to be equal, or is that incorrect? Shouldn’t the corvette driver spread her wealth. I’m in a chevy lumina that won’t pass emissions, and I’m not voting for Bernie. This lady should sell the car and give some money to me so I can catch up to where she is, if you believe in Bernie. I’m a college graduate. I’m just not where she is. I could cry I fell through the cracks and she should help me. Isn’t that what Socialism and Bernie would advocate? Something along those lines that party would advocate. Socialists don’t drive around Corvettes? If they do, then we’ve all be mistaken and should pick Bernie immediately. We want our Corvette. We all work hard. We all should be equal then. All jobs paid the same, right? (take your guess at where I’m playing devil’s advocate.) I really wanted to stop and converse with her, but I get too political with this stuff and I’m not afraid to get in the dirt with it. I have nothing to lose. Hek, I’m not the one with the Corvette. Doesn’t a muscle car take more fuel and pollute more? Not sure where Bernie stands on that, but I would think he’s a big environmentalist.

One expects of a devil’s advocate, at the very least, the ability to advocate for something, or at least against something. This is basically “Let’s see how many talking points I can use in half an hour.”

And besides: a lawn sign on the dashboard? This ain’t no bumper sticker, Ryball. For all you can tell, she may have just swiped that sign from a neighbor with whom she disagrees.

Now shut up and get your crummy Lumina fixed.

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Jamie Kitman in the November Automobile, passing over a point I’ve been trying to make in the process of making a bigger one:

Once they assured us that the American public demanded tailfins and cars that were forever growing lower, longer and wider. Today, they tell us, people like a command driving position so they can see over traffic. But of course they can’t see over traffic anymore because everybody else is riding so high, too. Taller, longer and wider is the fashion now.

See also Dash Parr: “If everyone is special, then no one is.”

But it’s all part of the package:

And anybody who thinks public opinion drives fashion in the first instance isn’t paying attention. Talk to people about what they want, and it turns out it is never unrelated to what is being sold. And, of course, what many of them also want is free porn, free booze, and OxyContin suppositories. Should we give it to them? If it will sell more cars, maybe.

I am philosophically unwilling to subsidize anyone’s porn or booze habit. And OxyContin suppositories? They can shove them up … um, never mind.

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The Nissan Maxima, argues Jack Baruth, is an anti-halo car:

  • Customer comes in to see the Altima
  • Customer sees Maxima with giant SALE banner
  • Customer compares price of discounted Maxima with less-discounted Altima
  • Sees that Maxima is a better deal
  • Doesn’t really like the Maxima
  • But he’ll be damned if he’ll pay just as much for an Altima as he would pay for the Maxima he doesn’t want
  • Customer leaves, buys a Camry, which is what his wife wanted him to do anyway

Conclusion: Nissan doesn’t need this car. But somebody does:

The company that most needs a Maxima is Nissan’s own sub-brand, Infiniti.

“But wait,” you say, “Infiniti’s brand values don’t include some big Fail-Wheel-Drive barge.” I assume you’re kidding, dear reader. Infiniti has no brand values whatsoever. It’s always been a grab-bag of whatever Nissan had sitting around the Japanese showrooms. The original Q45 was a Nissan President — although, to be fair, the idea of the Q45 was certainly on Nissan’s mind when the President was being developed. The Q-cars that followed were rebadged Nissan Cimas with virtually no US-market development. The G35 that took over as the “heart of the brand” was a Skyline. Only the FX-thingys were really meant from the jump to be exclusively Infinitis. The current lineup is a dog’s breakfast of awkward-looking SUVs and the Q50, which is lovely inside but doesn’t really exude much sporting intent.

And if they push it over to the Infiniti side of the business — as they did between 1997 and 2003, so there’s precedent — it has a chance of justifying a $40k price point, something it can’t do as a Nissan. Besides, it would kill off all that “four-door sports car” crap once and for all. I drive a 2000 with an Infiniti badge; it does have four doors, and it’s definitely a car, but it’s sporting only in the sense that it’s not the sort of anti-sporting vehicle for which General Motors was so famous for so long. If you can imagine an Oldsmobile Cutlass Semi-Supreme with better dampers, you have the I30/I35. If they bring it back as a Q40 or something, I’d have to seriously consider buying one.

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Tach it up

Faced with a kid asking “How do I make this [usually, but not always, “beater”] go fast?” people with speed experience generally reply “How much money you got?” There’s a bit in Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap writeup for this year, in which an Audi S3 produces a lap one second faster than a not-all-that-different Volkswagen Golf R, that seems to back up this premise:

Ask any group of racers if they would pay $3585, the spread between the Golf R and the S3, to clip one second off their lap. Most would ask if $7170 will get them two seconds.

As always, though, you eventually run into the point of diminishing returns: otherwise, a mere $685,811 would buy you actual teleportation.

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The aftermath of Dieselgate

TTAC editor-in-chief Mark Stevenson puts it bluntly: “Everyone will lose … except the lawyers.” Quelle surprise:

We are less than a week into this fiasco and class-action attorneys all over the United States are licking their lips before the feast.

Class-action lawsuits are inevitable in the United States in cases like these. Unfortunately, all the parties involved in a class action of this scale — save the lawyers — end up losing. Volkswagen and the attorneys will come up with an “agreeable” civil penalty, current VW diesel owners will be given what amounts to pennies on the dollar for whatever losses — real or otherwise — they’ll experience because of the emissions mess, and the lawyers will walk away with millions of dollars in fees.

The only thing yet undetermined, really, is how ridiculous the ultimate “settlement” will be.

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Get off my driveway

Technology is not an unalloyed delight. (From the “It is written” widget in the sidebar, Alice Kahn: “For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press 3.”) But each person has her own “This much, but no farther” limit, and this is Lynn’s:

What new or proposed technology goes beyond your willingness to adapt? What would make you say, “That’s it. I’m done. From now on I’m gonna be a stubborn old geezer, forever living in the past. Screw you, modern world.”?

So far I haven’t seen anything that makes me feel that way but I am really not liking the idea of self driving cars. That might be it for me.

I think my threshold is in that general vicinity. The biggest enthusiasts, I suspect, are people who would rather not drive in the first place; they’d just as soon sit on a train and read Facebook. Nothing wrong with either of those endeavors individually, but the combination seems somehow lame.

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Emissions: implausible

You’ve seen this said here before: There is no system that cannot be gamed. This particular example is fiendishly clever, if definitely illegal:

The Obama administration on Friday directed Volkswagen to recall nearly a half-million cars, saying the automaker illegally installed software in its diesel-power cars to evade standards for reducing smog.

The Environmental Protection Agency accused the German automaker of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. Only during such tests are the cars’ full emissions control systems turned on. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the EPA said.

The tradeoff? Better fuel economy, apparently. VW evidently wanted big numbers and was willing to do whatever it took to get them.

In other words, it’s the automotive equivalent of “teaching to the test,” and it’s not at all surprising in a society that values the letter of the law far more than the spirit.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Antique fuel

Not an unreasonable question, this:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: How do you know when gas has gone bad?

And then we launch into Too Much Exposition:

I have a 79 Firebird that has sat for about 5 years and I am starting down the road to running it again. I filled it with the good stuff before parking it. I am assuming that after this long it has gone bad but considering that I paid over $4/gallon for it at the time I hate to just dump it unless somebody has a good idea on how to save it.

Sorry, pal, but old hydrocarbons are not worth saving no matter what you paid for them. (Why do you think we burn ’em in the first place?)

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