Archive for Driver’s Seat

Hearts strong as horses

It doesn’t happen very often, but now and then Car and Driver will put together a comparison test of the sort that boggles the mind. In the December issue, it’s a comparo between a horse-drawn carriage in New York’s Central Park and the electrified buggy that’s been proposed as its replacement. The new horseless contraption has a couple of advantages, including an 84-hp electric motor — the original carriage has, um, 1 horsepower — and comparatively easy rechargeability. The horse, meanwhile, gets a minimum of five weeks’ pasture time each year by city ordinance. But both vehicles have rigid axles and leaf springs underneath.

C/D, as usual, presented their test results — the carriage with an actual horse, an 11-year-old gelding, was 1.2 seconds faster from 0 to 3 mph — and their conclusion box. For the original horse-drawn carriage:

+ Quaint, quiet, semi-autonomous, pleasantly furry.

- Occasional stubbornness, no emissions controls.

= Working horses built civilization. Here’s one of the last that still has a job.

In terms of experience, the old-fashioned buggy outpointed the new one, 51-36:

Having two brains at the controls allows the driver to interact with his customers, face to face; that’s impossible with the eCarriage. A horse just makes it a better tourist experience, even if you’re looking at the back end of it.

And speaking of horse’s asses:

In the long run … NYCLASS [New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets] will likely win this battle, if not because it’s able to get the horses banned, but because the land under the horses’ stables is so valuable that the stable owners won’t be able to resist selling.

Those stables are located just off the West Side Highway in Hell’s Kitchen, an area of Manhattan that has been rapidly gentrifying of late.

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Outdoor batroom

Bat house from old Volt partsOn the off-chance that your first question is “Why is that Chevrolet Volt battery housing sitting on top of a pole?” the answer is that it’s scrap from the General Motors battery plant in Brownstown Township, in the southern end of Wayne County, Michigan, which has no landfill, and the stuff is difficult to recycle for some obscure chemical reason, so the General came up with something else to do with the little plastic boxes: provide homes for bats. Yes, really:

The company … creates bat houses out of scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers that can hold up to 150 little brown bats each. John Bradburn, GM global manager of waste reduction, came up with the reuse idea, transforming the difficult-to-recycle material into nesting structures. So far, 232 of these bat houses have been installed on its properties and in other private and public lands in the United States. A tweak of the design has led to 368 specially designed structures to serve wood ducks, owls, bluebirds and scaly-sided mergansers — an endangered species.

Which means shipping the stuff off to China, since Mergus squamatus is native to east Asia and is presumably never seen around Detroit.

This isn’t the only bat-related Chevy recycling program, either:

Artificial stalactites give hibernating bats more surface area from which to hang, thus spreading them out around the cave. Creation of the stalactite is simple; robots that apply a structural adhesive that helps join Corvette body parts are purged regularly to keep the adhesive applicator clean and free of dried material. This dried gunk is the perfect shape for a stalactite, and its use in artificial bat caves avoids sending it to landfills.

Seems like a swell idea to me.

(Nicole originally posted the stalactite story; I just padded it out a bit.)

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Go thou and don’t do likewise

Acts 5:12 (KJV):

And by the hands of the Apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one Accord in Solomon’s porch.

If you’re not an apostle — there were only twelve, after all — or anywhere near Solomon’s porch (Solomon’s Porsche, maybe?), you probably should not try this yourself:

A Catoosa teacher has been suspended with pay after she was accused of piling kids into her [Honda Accord] and putting two kids in the trunk to run an errand.

The school board set a hearing for the teacher to fight a possible firing.

Parents claim Heather Cagle left Wells Middle School with 11 kids and drove to Wal-Mart to get snacks.

The Lord, who driveth a Plymouth, would not approve:

Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my Fury.

(Via Fark.)

Update, 23 December: She’s been sacked.

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A truck for ewe

This may, or may not, be the Ram 700 pickup truck:

Ram variant of Fiat Strada

In real life, this is the Fiat Strada, built in Brazil since 1996 and no relation to the Fiat Strada sold in the US and Britain back in the Eighties, which everywhere else was a Ritmo. (I once got a few minutes to drive one of those Stradas; it was serious fun despite having only 69 hp, perhaps because it handled like an Italian car, and made noises like an Italian car.)

Autoblog thinks this little darb is coming to the States:

Fiat was spotted testing a heavily camouflaged example of the Strada in Michigan months ago. Is it a bit difficult to imagine these 700s lined up next to the 1500 and its HD siblings at modern Ram dealers in the US? Perhaps, but we like options.

Of course, they’d have to start building it in Mexico to avoid the dreaded Chicken Tax. This might not be a problem, since the Strada is already sold in Mexico, and Fiat already has a plant in Toluca, currently turning out 500s and Dodge Journeys.

And “700” makes sense, if you figure that it looks about half the size of a Ram 1500, Chrysler’s standard half-ton pickup. And the two-door version — the model pictured is actually a 3-door, with two doors on the passenger side — has a rated cargo capacity of 705 kg, which is right around three quarters of a ton. However, being a teensy front-driver with a 1.6-liter inline-four and a five-speed manual, the 700 probably can’t tow anything much bigger than your daughter’s Radio Flyer.

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A lot of apps for that

Pergiel’s Corollary to Parkinson’s Law:

I’m pretty much convinced that the amount of driving expands to fill the available space. No wonder people (Google at least) are working on self driving cars. It’s not so cars can fly down the freeway without anybody at the wheel, it’s so people can play tiddly-winks on their iPhones while their car spends an hour crawling along at five MPH to deliver them to work or home.

Well, okay, as long as I don’t have to do any actual work.

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It needs to be 20% thirstier

Lisa has a Prius named Rainbow Dash, and it was perfectly fine until she moved out of Ponyville:

Whereas the Prius used to be perfectly fine for the usually slow traffic on Highway 101 then sleepy Route 37 up to Sonoma, now I’m doing the two hour plus drive up north on what must be the scariest freeway in Northern California. I start out on a quick spur of the 880 which local cops call Blood Alley because of all the accidents. Then I switch to the 680 where I seem to have a life-flashing-before-my-eyes event on every run. The problem is the huge number of trucks and tractor trailers on this road. Which means I, in my little fiberglass sardine can, am sharing road space with massive eight tired rigs at least ten times my size. In the Prius’s defense, let me say that it has fabulous visibility with a large windshield, super large (for its size) rear view mirrors and almost a 180 degree view to the rear through a large rear hatchback window and side windows. Let me tell you, you need that visibility. Because NOBODY can see a Prius. Even Subaru station wagons can’t see the Prius. So if you can’t get out of harm’s way, no one else is going to prevent that accident. And how bad would that accident be? Well, judging from the damage done at low speeds on my recent roadtrip, I don’t even want to contemplate what that car would look like after a 65-70 MPH impact. Although I’m all about the great gas mileage, I’m starting to wonder how much that will matter to me after I’m splattered on a concrete shoulder by a merging big rig.

The problem, of course, is that something taller and easier to see is likely to drink a whole lot more go-juice than a Prius:

I’ve spent more than a decade in Priusland. I’m nearly fainting at the gas mileage that the average car gets. Are you people really driving around thinking 30 or 35 MPG is good gas mileage?

In eight years and change, Gwendolyn has only twice returned as much as 30 mpg, and both times they were back East, where 93-octane fuel is more common than it is here in the Quarter-Mile-High City. Then again, she’s a solid highway cruiser, if not particularly tall, and her Blinding White paint may or may not enhance her visibility. (Rarity? But of course, darling.)

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Treadmill extensions

On the off-chance that automakers are going to push self-driving cars with the idea that “Look how much work you can get done during your daily commute!” — well, thanks, but no thanks.

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Just a few blocks ahead of you

One of the locals who believes fervently that there need to be enough traffic lanes to convey him — the hell with the rest of us — from Point A to any subsequent point without any discernible delay, once made the mistake of calling, in my presence, for the widening of Interstate 35 between 40 and 44, a five-mile stretch that is only two lanes in each direction for four of those miles. I have to drive those four miles twice a day, and when things are moving the way they’re supposed to be moving, there are, in fact, no discernible delays; the highway accommodates its capacity at the indicated speed limit — 60 mph — or perhaps a little over, with ease.

What’s slowing things down, of course, is this guy:

Do you know someone whose confidence in his driving strikes you as unwarranted? Who swishes back and forth among the lanes like a matador showing off before a packed stadium? Who routinely takes his eyes off the road for frivolous reasons, for example to send a text message? Who removes both hands from the wheel to grope through the snacks in his center console or the CDs on the passenger side floor? Have you ever said to yourself “He’s an accident looking for a place to happen?”

You’re right. The odds are that he, or someone very like him, will cause the next highway accident, and possibly a few lives in the bargain. But there’s no telling that to him. He takes the mere mention of risk as a mortal insult. He probably has one of those idiotic “NO FEAR” decals emblazoned on his rear windshield, where it can conveniently obstruct his road vision.

And even if he hasn’t caused an accident this time, he’s certainly caused discombobulation among his fellow motorists, who will slam on the brakes lest they encounter him more closely; the next 3.5 miles, the pattern repeats, and all of a sudden there’s a traffic jam despite perfectly ordinary levels of traffic. This is probably inevitable in an area where 75 percent of the drivers consider themselves to be above average.

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Endless loopiness

Will Truman will tell you that this is not the routine you want to see running at the Department of Motor Vehicles:

Basically, the issue was this:

1) Without the VIN, the car was not officially registered.
2) Registration was required before they could accept the VIN verification form.
3) The car could not be registered without an accepted VIN verification form.

You can prove you have (unofficial?) registration by giving them the temporary registration card, but we didn’t have that. The lady at the DMV was actually skeptical there was any way out of this that didn’t involve buying a new car.

But on their second visit, they somehow managed to exit this loop:

[W]e got a different lady who was much more helpful. Actually, she wasn’t helpful at all, but since it was a complicated situation and she had just started the job two days before, she took us to someone who could help us. Within an hour, everything had been settled. She basically called the person in the state capital who had transcribed the VIN number incorrectly, and they quietly corrected it, with everything quietly falling into place.

The advantage of dealing with new and untried personnel: they don’t yet know all the reasons why the customer is always wrong.

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Nor will it stay dead

The auto company once known as Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH, founded in 1909 by Wilhelm Maybach, wound down operations after World War II, and Daimler-Benz bought what was left of it in 1960. For some reason, forty years later Daimler decided to revive the make as an ultra-lux brand — sort of a Mercedes-Benz SS-Class, if you know what I mean — positioning it against the likes of Rolls-Royce. Between 2002 and 2011, Maybach moved about 3000 cars, about what Rolls-Royce did in any one of those years, and the badge was quietly put back into the vault.

Now it’s coming out again:

Once a name best known for providing a platform for Kanye West’s and Jay Z’s Mad Maxian fantasies, Maybach is set to return from the grave under the bright lights of the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show as a Mercedes model.

Car and Driver reports the Maybach will be around 18 feet in length, slotting between the S550 and the deceased Maybach 57, according to head of global design, Gordon Wagener.

Other features include a turbocharged V12, rear-wheel drive, Mercedes’ Magic Body Control suspension, luxurious materials, and a badge here and there to let the proletariat know a god and/or goddess is being chauffeured, not some Silicon Valley dirtbag.

The 57, in case you’d forgotten, was so called because it stretched 5.7 meters, out there with the late, lamented Buick Electra 225. (There was an even-longer 62, which made it four inches past the twenty-foot mark.)

Something this size ought to seat about eight; I expect it will hold just about half that many.

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Benzifying man

In the November issue, Car and Driver’s Aaron Robinson describes their tested Mercedes-Benz C400 4Matic as “solid and Benzily secure.” As adverbification of an automotive marque goes, this is pretty euphonious: “Benzily, Benzily, Benzily, Benzily, life is but a dream,” especially if you can pony up $61,755, which is E-Class money, for a spiffed up C-Class. And besides, anyone with road experience in an older Mercedes — even I, who had only a few minutes in a Seventies-vintage 240D with acceleration at the lawn-tractor level — knows the feeling of being Benzily secure: it’s like having a bank vault around you.

Still, what I care about here is the word itself. While the Mercedes half of the name is long and inflexible, Benz enters into compounds nearly as avidly as oxygen: already I’m contemplating the FWD demi-lux buggy coming from Daimler, which will also be sold by Infiniti as the Q30 after, I assume, serious deBenzification.

One can play this game all day long. Complain about the indifferent Lincoln product line? You’ve just called for increased — or maybe decreased — Forditude. Quality problems with the ATS and CTS sedans can be traced to Cadillaxity. And if the two of you were getting jiggy in a Tahoe … well, never mind.

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Runs in the family

As usual, I can assume that they’re not referring to me:

Children are a blank slate. They draw their habits, behaviors and mannerisms from their parents. If you subscribe to that viewpoint, then this study out of Michigan State University won’t really come as a surprise. According to Soren Anderson, an MSU economist, kids are 39 percent more likely to buy cars from the brands their parents support.

So, if your parents buy Jeeps, there’s a strong correlation that you’re going to end up behind a seven-slat grille at some point. Same goes for Cadillac owners, Toyota fans and Bimmerphiles.

I’m told we had a ’49 Chevy when I was born, but if I saw it, I don’t remember it. This was followed by:

  • ’54 Ford Ranch Wagon
  • ’59 Ford (GB) Anglia
  • ’62 Rambler Classic
  • ’66 Volkswagen Microbus
  • ’69 Volkswagen Microbus

Shortly afterward, we became a two-car household, adding a ’69 Dodge Coronet to the fleet. It was the later Vee Dub in which I learned to drive. This doesn’t at all seem to have affected my own vehicular purchases, nor have mine affected those of my kids. (We will definitely overlook my daughter’s ratty early-80s Ford Escort, dubbed “Muff, the Tragic Wagon.”)

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Get off my driveway

It’s that concrete strip that interrupts the lawn. You can’t miss it.

Actually, you probably can, if these numbers from Nielsen have any validity:

Nielsen, who are better known for its television ratings system than much else, recently published a report narrowing down who exactly goes for connected-vehicle technology the most.

Short answer: Men 55 and over, college degree in one hand, $100,000 in the other.

Breaking it down further, men comprised the majority of all connected-vehicle users at 58 percent, with 42 percent over the age of 55, 62 percent in possession of a college degree, and 37 percent making over $100,000 annually.

Damn gadget freaks. And actually, it’s worse than that:

As for how all users end up in a connected vehicle, Nielsen says safety is the biggest factor, with 79 percent believing the vehicle’s technology will keep them safe on the road. Crash notifications, Internet-enabled navigation and safety alerts were at the top of the users’ list when shopping for a new vehicle.

Technology is seldom a match for stupidity; and it’s stupidity, either yours or that guy’s [see next lane], that’s most likely to get you killed out on the superslab.

In a couple of these cases, it’s yours:

The entertainment side of the infotainment divide also had its day in the sun, with 36 percent of users streaming audio into their car on a regular basis, 26 percent going online, and 21 percent downloading media while riding the real superhighway.

What percent, I wonder, are bitching about teenagers texting?

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Straining the argument

Last month, we found out that Oklahoma apparently does not have a problem with a driver’s-license photo featuring the traditional headgear of the Pastafarians. British Columbia, by contrast, has a problem:

Here in one of the most religiously diverse communities in Canada, it is possible to obtain a driver’s license wearing a kipa, hijab, habit, turban or Amish cap — really, any piece of religious headgear that does not obscure the face.

But lifelong Surreyite Obi Canuel is currently unable to drive because he has refused to remove a spaghetti colander from his head for his driver’s license photo. He does it, he claims, because he believes the world was created by an intoxicated Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The FSM soused? Perish the thought.

Last November, Mr. Canuel posed for his driver’s license photo while wearing a blue toga and plastic spaghetti colander.

The unusual photo was deemed fit for Mr. Canuel’s provincial I.D. card, but after lengthy review by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia — the province’s official licensing agency — it was ultimately deemed insufficient for his driver’s license.

This may be a mission-creep issue: the ICBC was originally created as a Crown Corporation to provide auto insurance, and only later was handed the responsibility for licensing drivers. And drivers don’t think much of their insurance these days.

Still, British Columbia could legitimately be seen as a laggard:

U.S. soldiers have had “FSM” listed as a religion on their dog tags, a town councilmember in Pomfret, N.Y., was recently sworn in while solemnly wearing a plastic pasta colander, and colander-wearing pastafarians have been able to obtain driver’s licenses in Austria, the Czech Republic, California, Texas, Oklahoma and New Zealand.

And I suspect Victoria won’t stand for that for long.

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That telltale scent of citrus

Technically, we don’t have self-driving cars yet. Tell that to Stephanie:

Tuesday, as I backed down my driveway, the car went dark. The engine turned off, brakes failed, steering locked but the radio continued to play.

Not a good sign:

I was now heading into rush-hour traffic while being entertained by the best of the 70’s, courtesy of XM Radio. This was the first time I realized that the car does not come equipped with an easy-access emergency brake. Who in their right mind hides an emergency brake? How are drivers expected to bring a car to a stop, in a crisis, without a clearly visible emergency brake? This is how: open the door, drag your foot along the ground, and jam the semi-locked foot break to the floor as hard as you can. Trust me, it works. I did it.

Fred Flintstone, white courtesy phone, please.

And unfortunately, she’s heard this part before:

I received a call from the service manager who was overseeing the diagnostics on my car. He told me that, once again, they were unsure of the root cause but he said the car has what they categorize as, phantom issues. This means they know there are issues, however, they can neither replicate nor diagnose the problem.

Thirty-thousand-dollar paperweight. I wonder if it’s new enough to qualify under the lemon law.

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Held in place

This tidbit about Ford’s new one-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, as fitted to the Fiesta, almost rated an Entirely Too Cool:

Vibration is inherent in three cylinder engines — an odd number of cylinders means there are no “equal but opposite” actions happening across the engine block to calm things down. Left to their own devices, triples tend to move around on their mounts and often make booming resonances. OEMs generally respond by adding counterrotating balance shafts. This minimizes vibration at the expense of fuel economy and power output, which isn’t much of a sales pitch.

Ford chose a different path. As seen in the video, fore-and-aft motion was dealt with by intentionally unbalancing the flywheel and accessory pulley. The increased lateral motion was then handled via careful tuning of the engine mounts and their placement. They aren’t active mounts like some publications have reported, but they generally do the job.

From my own experience with active mounts, I can testify that (1) they do work, and well, and (2) you don’t want to be the one writing the check when (not “if”) one fails. If Ford has actually come up with a standard mount that can match the actives’ performance level, they’ve pulled off a decently sized engineering coup.

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You and your damn dubs

Jamie Kitman gets to drive a couple of high rollers — a Ferrari FF and a Bentley Continental GT Speed — through New York’s Hudson Valley, and sadly notes in the November Automobile that they don’t roll all that well:

Like their vaunted ancestors — say, the Ferrari 365GT 2+2 and the original, 1950s Bentley Continental R — they’re fast bruisers meant for eating highway miles. It is a disappointment, then, that both cars ride so poorly, courtesy of their 20-inch (Ferrari) and 21-inch (Bentley) tires with narrow sidewalls. As the tariff for marginally better performance on the track, the Ferrari exhibits a marked tendency to tramline on lesser quality roads (thank the cruel winter in the Northeast for their prevalence here), while the Bentley crashes randomly over bad surfaces in a most ungenteel way. Giant wheels and tires are now the rule in cars for rich and poor alike and will be until some brave company bucks the trend and sacrifices putatively stylish rim diameter for comfort, a component of luxury that should not be overlooked.

My fifteen-year-old throwback luxoboat glides on sixteen-inch wheels; 17s were optional. More than once I’ve had to deal with someone owning this model wanting to know if 22s would fit; more than once I’ve had to refrain from telling him “I hope it shoves your coccyx into the back of your throat.”

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Warren Buffett wants to sell you a car

Right off the press-release wire:

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Van Tuyl Group announced … that they have entered into a definitive agreement pursuant to which Berkshire Hathaway will acquire the Van Tuyl Group, the nation’s largest privately-owned auto dealership group and which ranks fifth among all U.S. auto dealership groups.

After becoming a part of the Berkshire Hathaway family of businesses, the company will be known as Berkshire Hathaway Automotive. Berkshire Hathaway Automotive will continue to be led by Larry Van Tuyl, who will become Chairman, and Jeff Rachor, who will assume the role of Chief Executive Officer, as well as its experienced senior management team. Berkshire Hathaway Automotive will be headquartered in Dallas, Texas and will continue to pursue its strategy of operational excellence and disciplined acquisition growth, which is no change to the business model the company has pursued for the last 62 years.

“The Van Tuyl Group fits perfectly into Berkshire Hathaway from both a financial and cultural viewpoint. Larry Van Tuyl along with his father, Cecil, spent decades building outstanding dealerships operated by local partners. In recent years, he has shared management with Jeff Rachor, a seasoned auto retailer who will retain a financial interest in all dealerships. The Van Tuyl Group enjoys excellent relations with the major auto manufacturers and delivers unusually high volumes at its 78 locations. This is just the beginning for Berkshire Hathaway Automotive,” said Berkshire Hathaway’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Warren Buffett.

I wonder if this is going to mean more cross-promotion. A recent ad for BH’s GEICO Insurance suggested, not the usual “up to 15 percent” savings, but enough, maybe, to buy her a ring — a ring from Helzberg Jewelers, another BH company.

The Van Tuyl Group operates in ten states: they own, for example, all the “Reliable” dealerships in Springfield, Missouri.

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Defending the American knee

Not so long ago, I posted a shot from a Buick print ad showing a young lady busily tableting away in the back seat of an Encore, incorporating the following observations:

[T]he fact that Miss Tablet can actually cross her legs back there is reassuring, though I’m not sure how close her head is to the ceiling.

This latter point is seldom made by automakers; I can remember only once in recent years when it was blatant, and even then it was only a tweet.

Now comes this, to show you the space available in the long-wheelbase Infiniti Q70L, and once again legroom is a factor:

Rear sear of Infiniti Q70L, occupied by dreamy female

Of course, the great tragedy of my life is being unable to attract anyone like that to the front seat.

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Having your engine chipped?

It should not look like this when they’re finished:

Intake repair using a Pringles can

This is, I submit, the one advantage of Pringles over, say, Wavy Lay’s.

(From the BG Products Facebook page.)

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Toll you so

Surely somebody could have seen this coming:

In 2006, then-Governor Mitch Daniels (R) leased the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to Cintra and Macquarie Bank, operating as the ITR Concession Company, in return for an up-front payment of $3.8 billion. Daniels promised to use that money to build new roads over ten years under a program he called “Major Moves,” while the consortium was allowed to charge motorists steadily rising tolls until the year 2081.

The consortium came up with the cash by borrowing $4.1 billion off the prospect of a “guaranteed” stream of future toll returns.

And both sides of this deal got squat:

Motorists paid $196 million to use the road last year while the consortium owed $193 million in debt service payments. This left just $3 million to cover the cost of 244 employees, maintenance, capital upgrades and related expenses. Reserves were exhausted in December, and the consortium missed a $102 million interest payment in June. With interest, the consortium’s total debt obligation now stands at $6 billion.

The promise of the Major Moves Fund also failed to deliver. The $2.6 billion fund was supposed to have been set aside from the $3.8 billion payment to the state government. It was to grow by 5.25 percent annually from investments. That did not happen, and the money ran dry in 2013, though tolling will continue for at least another 69 years.

If Daniels still has a wisp of presidential ambition, this should kill it once and for all: I got 99 candidates, and Mitch ain’t one.

(Via Fark.)

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One hundred K

The Jalops take on a question that never would have occurred to me:

Today, we’re going to cover a topic that has been plaguing neurotic car owners for decades: what do you do when your car reaches 100,000 miles?

To the most neurotic of car owners, the answer to this question is simple: your car won’t reach 100,000 miles. That’s because these people think a car with 100,000 miles is garbage; trash; refuse; the automotive equivalent to a toaster that won’t toast, which is really just a place to store your slices of bread every morning.

Blame the Less-Than-Greatest Generation for this:

I’m not sure where this 100,000-mile fear came from, but it’s certainly a commonly-held belief among virtually everyone from the Baby Boomer era. “Why would you want THAT car?” they’ll ask, revolted, as if they’ve just bitten into a sandwich that tastes like envelope glue. “THAT car has more than 100,000 miles on it. It’s the automotive equivalent to a blender that won’t blend.”

Allow me to exclude myself from “virtually everyone”: all but one of my cars survived for a decent interval after 100k, and the one that didn’t probably would have were it not for some damn deer. Gwendolyn is sporting 153k these days, and while her body isn’t quite what it used to be — she is, after all, fifteen, which puts her right up there with Helen Mirren if Helen Mirren were a car — she’s showing almost no signs of slowing down. (Yes, the brakes work. Don’t be a ninny.) And at the time she hit 100k, I was 3500 miles into a road trip.

Still, the yahoos continue to ask: “How many miles is too many miles?” I usually tell them to go down several price classes and buy new, because otherwise it will take them just about an hour and a half to jack up a major system to the point where the cost-benefit ratio fails to make that left turn at Albuquerque. The worst, perhaps, are the overenthusiastic guys who found a ten-year-old BMW for under ten grand and don’t comprehend the concept of a $99 oil-change special, and the ones who you just know came this close to being scammed by somebody on Craigslist who claimed to have their dream car for half Kelley Blue Book. (And, of course, the chronic masturbators who want Nissan Skylines, but that’s a whole ‘nother set of neuroses.)

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Brightness control

The Internet, says Bark M., has changed everything:

We used to think people who had vast memories and the ability to devour, and later recall, great bits of knowledge were “smart.” Who needs to do that anymore? Each one of us has a device with the entirety of the knowledge of mankind in our pockets at all time. And, largely because of this, everybody seems to have an opinion on everything, because it’s easy to do a Google search and instantly find out what your position on virtually anything should be. I can’t write a column on TTAC without commenters disputing everything I say, claiming to have all knowledge of all types of cars, despite the fact that they own a 2003 Altima and have never competed in any sort of autosport. The latest C&D review of the new Mustang GT was the best example I’ve seen of this recently — about halfway through the article, I already knew that the commenters would be screaming “45k FOR A RUSTANG LOL YA RITE.” None of them can afford a $45k car of any type, of course, but that doesn’t matter. The internet and social media have mistakenly made all of us think our opinions are equal and valid, when, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The Mustang will sell as fast as dealers can get them.

In my capacity as a person who supposedly easily once qualified as Smart v1.0, I have to admit to a growing level of complacency: if I don’t have The Answer, surely someone else out there has, and that should take the pressure off me. Opinions are still worth about as much as they always were — one of them and $7.99 will get you a combo meal for a limited time only at participating locations, tax not included — but the sheer quantity of them insures that no one is waiting with bated breath for mine.

In a lower-quality automotive environment, such as Yahoo! Answers, most of the loudmouth participants would be lucky to have a 2003 Altima; among the worst ones are the characters who are “temporarily” living at home, “paying no bills,” making $50-60k a year, and wanting to know how close they are to owning a Gallardo. I usually tell them that the reasonable upper limit of their aspirations is a ’99 Corolla. They resent the hell out of that; the only people who are consistently more hostile than this are the ones who can’t understand why they can’t have a Nissan Skyline, and the ones who go on for several paragraphs about how much this crapmobile they bought from a buy-here-pay-here dealer for only 200 percent of list keeps breaking down every other week, and demand to know “What are my rights?” (The answer to that, of course, is “If it breaks in half going down the road, you get to keep both halves.”)

And besides, we’re all smart. The Ed Biz says so:

Now, in modern schools, every kid is “smart.” They have something like seventy-four different types of “intelligence,” and all the kids are intelligent in some way — they even have “physical intelligence” for the kids who are athletically gifted. All the tests that we used to think determined some sort of intelligence are now deemed in some way or another to be “biased.” I used to endlessly mock my brother because I scored about 200 points higher than he did on the SAT (granted, I took it when I was 17 and he took it when he was 13 or something, but still). He claimed that they made the test easier in the eight years between our respective testing dates — now it’s not even up for debate. The college entrance exams are much, much easier than they used to be. I don’t even think they give IQ tests to kids now.

I mention this because (1) his brother reads this stuff occasionally and (2) my brother, the one who was four years younger than I and passed away in 2010, scored about 200 points lower than I did on the SAT. Then again, he was the grounded one; I was the neurotic. (And yet he’s gone, and somehow I’m still here.) And had he been turned loose on those nimrods on Y!A, or even the Best & Brightest at TTAC, he’d have torn them enough new ones to cause a worldwide gauze shortage, while I barely draw blood.

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Not to show off or anything

I found this buried in the comment section at TTAC, and I thought it deserved some kind of expansion:

The [Volkswagen] Phaeton sold just fine, just not in the US or Canada. There’s a sizable demand for a full-on luxury car that doesn’t scream “douchebag.”

In the US, Oldsmobile and Buick have traditionally filled that role. I guess now Hyundai will be the go-to for business people who don’t want to send the wrong message in the company lot. I know a few business owners who don’t drive their nice cars to work, simply because it would upset their employees and maybe show their customers that they are overcharging.

Our own company lot is filled with middle-market stuff: there is a single Cadillac, one Infiniti (mine), and a wide array of standard-price brands and/or beaters, though someone did buy a gently-used Prius this month. And no, the Caddy doesn’t belong to El Jefe. At any given moment, perhaps a third of the corporate spaces are occupied by trucks.

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The lightbearers of Fog City

In an Automobile magazine (October ’14) multi-page article about driving the BMW i3 through Silicon Valley, tucked into a sidebar, I found a little chart: “2013 Vehicle Sales by Fuel Type, San Francisco vs. U.S.” This oughta be good, I thought, and noted that ordinary, garden-variety gasoline-engined cars made up 76.41 percent of the total American market. In San Francisco? 76.88. How unspeakably, improbably … normal.

How is this even possible? SF buys three times as many hybrids (11.39 vs 3.66 percent), four times as many CNG cars (0.04 vs 0.01, no big deal) and nine times as many pure electrics (3.16 vs 0.37). Diesels are about even: 2.69 in SF, 2.98 for the nation as a whole. What they refuse to buy in the City by the Bay, apparently, is so-called “flex-fuel,” gasoline-powered cars that can run on up to 85 percent ethanol: only 5.83 percent of SF buyers opted for flex-fuel in ’13, versus 16.57 percent nationwide. I surmise that on this issue, if perhaps on no other, San Franciscans agree with me: the proper place for ethanol is not your fuel tank, but your shot glass.

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Fair to mittening

Yours truly, in the midst of World Tour ’03:

Two of the four major automotive magazines are based in Ann Arbor, and they complain routinely about the Third World quality of Michigan roads. I didn’t cover a whole lot of Washtenaw County, where I-94 is quite acceptable, but I-69 just south of 94 is somewhere between wretched and horrible; I kept looking around for Ba’ath Party members with remote-control devices.

Today, two of the four major automotive magazines are based in Ann Arbor, but not the same two. (Okay, one of the same two.) How are the roads?

Well when you see a medium duty truck slow to a 15 mph crawl in a 40 mph zone so the cargo (or truck) isn’t damaged, you know the roads are somewhere between “is this really paved?” and “the dark side of the moon.” The double whammy of repeated freeze/thaw cycles and a poor state economy for a couple of decades has resulted in potholes, craters and chasms in our roads. Two of the steel rims on my daily driver have been bent.

Although Lansing apparently has decided that neglect is no longer Option One:

Things are getting better. Just about everyone in the state agrees that the roads need fixing and even our fiscally conservative governor has advocated an increase in the gasoline tax to repave the worst roads here.

They certainly don’t fix themselves.

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Somewhat lacking in dash

Attack with Numbers has a subtle little piece called “The laws of shitty dashboards,” the second of which is “If it’s called ‘Dashboard,’ it’s probably shitty.”

Of course, they’re talking software dashboards, but the principle could be extended further:

Take car dashboards for example. They use vast amount of real estate to display information that is useless 99% of the time. How often do you need to know the RPM on an automatic car? Can’t you just take that stupid dial out and put something useful instead?

Then again, if you don’t have that information in the remaining 1% of the time, you’re hosed. And I look at the RPM all the time, if only to see what sort of shift points I’m using. And there’s this, for instance: the car is fully warmed up when, and only when, 70 rpm can be had below 2500 rpm, useful information of the sort you can’t count on from today’s typically wonky temperature gauges.

On the other hand, I’m definitely down with this:

They also employ UX techniques that dates from a time where the only UI component you can use was a light bulb. If that red thing is critical, can’t you tell me right away what it means?

One wants to know, after all, what the engine is doing, not what it just quit doing.

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Ferric oxide never sleeps

My car’s otherwise pristine flanks are marred by none-too-faint traces of the tinworm along the rear wheel wells, the right worse than the left. (There’s another outcropping along the radiator support, less visible but more worrisome.) I tend to think of it as a reminder that unto dust we shall return, and that goes for our toys as well. And at least it was a good paint job at one time, unlike some we’ve heard about:

I finally got around to putting a bunch of Zaino not-quite-wax on the thing last week and I noticed that Honda’s inability to paint cars properly in the United States has yet to be completely addressed. After 12,000 miles, the Accord has more rock chip damage and wear on the front than any of my Volkswagens, BMWs, or Porsches had after three times that much distance. No orange in history has ever had as much orange peel as this Honda and where the paint has chipped off you can see just how thin it is. Oh well. My 1986 Jaguar Vanden Plas had brilliant and flawless lacquer that was approximately as thick as a trauma-plated bulletproof vest but it also failed to make it to 75,000 miles without requiring the replacement of every rubber part in the suspension and body. Choose your battles.

Indeed. (Gwendolyn has a shade under 153,000 miles at this writing.)

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The new automotive priorities

The big thing at General Motors this fall, apparently, is in-car Wi-Fi. A two-page Buick ad in the new InStyle (October) contains this image:

In the back seat of a Buick Regal

The young lady, resplendent in orange, is obviously making best use of her time in the back seat. (Of course it’s the back seat: you don’t want drivers doing this, the curve of the roofline gives it away, and anyway this is the view from outside the car.) Apart from telling you that you can get a mobile hotspot, though, this ad tucks in a couple of additional messages that aren’t spelled out:

  • The average age of Buick buyers has actually been declining, from recently deceased to somewhere in the fifties, but there’s really no percentage to marketing to us old codgers, set in our ways, so let’s show someone about half that age.
  • Fear of cramped back seats haunts us all, or at least those of us who occasionally might find occasion to carry someone in the back seat, so the fact that Miss Tablet can actually cross her legs back there is reassuring, though I’m not sure how close her head is to the ceiling.

This latter point is seldom made by automakers; I can remember only once in recent years when it was blatant, and even then it was only a tweet.

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Your seventy years are up?

For a dead car brand, Saab certainly gets a lot of notice. The Economic Times of India buried this near the bottom of a column, but still:

Recent international reports indicate that one of Saab’s potential saviours could be Mahindra.

National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a Chinese-run company seeking to revive Saab, recently lost the right to use the brand’s name as it negotiates with potential investors on a revival plan.

The Indian company was keen on acquiring Saab in 2012, only to be beaten by the current owner. Saab didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

“Saab was a highly respected brand in both Europe and the US, and had a small, but strong following,” said [French auto analyst Gautam] Sen. “So, picking up Saab and using the brand could be a good way for Mahindra to make some headway into these markets. Even Ssangyong has had problems getting anywhere in Europe as many consumers believe that it is a Chinese brand. So re-branding (and redesigning) Ssangyong and Mahindra products into Saabs may work, if quality and design can come up to the expectations of the typically discerning Saab enthusiast,” he said. “Having said that, relaunching a brand as specific as Saab would not be that easy either.”

Mahindra took a 70-percent share of Ssangyong, the fourth-largest Korean automaker (behind Hyundai, Kia and GM Daewoo), after the Double Dragon fell into receivership in 2009.

Weirdly, both Mahindra and Saab Automobile were formed the same year: 1945.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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