Tag Archives: cars

Goodbye, Saturn


The collapse of a deal between General Motors and the Penske automotive group spells the end of car maker Saturn, according to the Detroit Free-Press. The deal apparently fell apart almost immediately after it rolled off the assembly line, when the cardboard and aluminum foil that held it together disintegrated in a light rain.

Penske blames the collapse on its failure to secure a separate deal with a third party (Renault-Nissan) to manufacture more Saturns in the future. Industry analysts point out that most Saturn models are held together by baling wire, wood glue, and empty McDonalds wrappers — materials not readily accessible outside of Saturn’s unique supply chain.

The demise of Saturn could cost 13,000 jobs, though insiders say many of those employees will be able to survive for months by consuming the cars themselves — approximately 22% of every Saturn is made of compressed lima beans and other organic matter.

“This is very disappointing news and comes after months of hard work by hundreds of dedicated employees and Saturn retailers who tried to make the new Saturn a reality,” Fritz Henderson, GM chief executive officer, said.

The old Saturn was a reality since 1985, when General Motors decided to compete with small, attractive, high-quality Japanese cars by manufacturing cars made of old stapler parts. The first Saturn models were sold out of the trunks of larger cars. No one is really sure why they couldn’t sell enough to stay in business.

Penske-Saturn deal collapses after Renault-Nissan backs out [Detroit Free-Press]


Filed under business, cars

Why the hybrid isn’t the answer

Pax Arcana

pontiacYou probably agree that the only thing more taxing than arguing over the environment is doing math.

Well hold onto your brain balls, bitches, because they’re about to get kicked with the hard feet of learning, Freakonomics-style.

Here’s the situation: Imagine your friend buys a Toyota Prius that gets 46 miles per gallon. You, on the other hand, drive a Toyota RAV 4 SUV that only gets 24 mpg. And you smell like salami, but that detail is not important. Your other friend rolls in a Land Rover that gets 14 mpg.

Now let’s say the RAV 4 driver switches to a Prius, and the Land Rover driver switches to a RAV 4. Who helps the environment the most?

You may be tempted to select the first friend, since the leap from 24 mpg to 46 mpg is greater than the leap from 14 mpg to 24 mpg. You’d be wrong, and the reason is that you’re as stupid as college kids:

Why does 10 m.p.g. matter more than 22? The reason is that the relationship between m.p.g and fuel savings is not linear but curvilinear. Ten m.p.g. at the bottom of the range matters a lot more than 22 m.p.g. higher up.

This is a hard concept for us to get our brains around. Richard B. Larrick and Jack B. Soll, reporting in Science (gated) found that only 1 percent of college students studied correctly perceived that an improvement from 14 to 24 m.p.g. saves considerably more fuel than an improvement from 24 to 46.

To give our brains a break, we might adopt a better way to look at fuel efficiency, aided by the manipulation of a mathematical tool in use in the Indus Valley almost 5,000 years ago — the unglamorous fraction.

The trick is one that even fourth-graders can master: invert the fraction. Let’s consider not miles per gallon but gallons per mile (or, to make the numbers prettier, gallons per hundred miles). By this metric, we get an unclouded picture: the Prius uses 2.17 gallons per hundred miles, the RAV4 uses 4.17, and the Range Rover uses 7.14.

Thanks to the mileage mirage, our efforts as a society may be somewhat misplaced. There are plenty of policy ideas afoot to get people into state-of-the-art, fuel-efficient cars, but a lot less interest in simply getting people out of the worst gas guzzlers into moderately more efficient alternatives, even within the same fuel-hungry class.

Luckily for all of us, my vehicle of choice actually adds more fossil fuels to the earth than it consumes. It’s a van I found unlocked and running behind the museum. I make sure to toss at least twenty fossils out the window for every gallon of gas.

Buy an S.U.V., Save the Planet [Freakonomics]

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Hummer drivers get more tickets

Pax Arcana


According to the L.A. Times, Hummer drivers are 4.63 times more likely to be cited for a traffic violation than the average driver. This leads to an obvious chicken-and-egg question:

Are Hummer drivers more likely to get tickets because they’re preening douchebags, or are the cops just out to get Hummer drivers (because they’re preening douchebags)?

One of the study’s authors concludes that Hummers either ramp up the preening douchebag’s sense of authority over his environment or makes him retarded:

“The sense of power that Hummer drivers derive from their vehicle may be directly correlated with the number of violations they incur,” Quality Planning President Raj Bhat said. “Or perhaps Hummer drivers, by virtue of their driving position, are less likely to notice road hazards, signs, pedestrians and other drivers.”

Number two on the “ticketability” list is the Scion tC, the preferred car of teenaged asian preening douchebags who are somehow friends with muppets. No, I’m serious. Check it out:


Hummers tops in ‘ticketability’ [LA Times]


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Friday Random 10: Volt Edition

Pax Arcana

Despite my endorsement of extra-terrestrial Vice Presidential candidates, Pax Arcana is a proud American who wants nothing but the best for cornerstone American businesses such as auto manufacturers, software companies, and the Wayans brothers.

That’s why I’m openly rooting for the Chevy Volt.

The Volt. Can you feel the electricity?

Like other American car companies, Chevy is on the brink of irrelevance thanks to our increasing distaste for the gas-guzzling trucks that propped up the domestic market throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In a hugely risky gamble to get back on track, Chevy is pouring around half a billion dollars into research and development of the Volt, a mostly-electric car aimed at bringing reduced-emissions vehicles to mainstream America.

If successful, the groundbreaking technology tucked inside the car could drastically reduce the environmental impact of each owner:

The Volt, which General Motors finally unveiled Tuesday, is a series hybrid, also called a range-extended electric vehicle. Like the Prius, it’s got an electric motor and a gasoline engine, but the engine merely charges the battery as it approaches depletion. Electricity alone turns the 17-inch wheels. The Volt is designed to travel 40 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery, meaning most drivers will never burn a drop of gasoline.

It won’t be mass produced until 2010, but here’s hoping Chevy’s on to something. I’m sure our environmentally savvy and not-at-all-shrunken-brained vegetarian friend Eoin over at the Bright Green Blog will keep us up to date.

The songs:

Candylion — Gruff Rhys
What’s Good — Lou Reed
Blind — Talking Heads
Videotape — Radiohead
Masochism World — Hüsker Dü
Bye & Bye — Bob Dylan
NYC-Gone, Gone — Conor Oberst
Mississippi — Bob Dylan
Bought for a Song — Fountains of Wayne
Missing — Beck

Bonus Video:

I’m OK You’re OK — Let’s Wrestle (Live at Stolen)

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.

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This is the way the industry ends, not with a bong but with a plink

Pax Arcana

Jay Leno is America’s foremost unfunny late night talk show host, but did you also know that he knows stuff about cars? It’s true! He owns lots of them!

As such, Leno is uniquely suited to be doling out advice to the U.S. automotive industry — which is undergoing a seismic shift thanks to plummeting sales of gas-hording SUVs and light trucks:

The problem with what’s happened over the past few decades is that you have a whole generation of kids who have no brand loyalty. They’ve grown up on Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota. To lure them to the American brand, you’ve got to give them something exciting, something bold, something different. America does technology well, and I think this is how the companies will bring those buyers back. I think cars like the Chevy Volt, which is entirely battery-powered, or hydrogen cars from Chrysler, Ford, and G.M. will take off.

Like most people, Leno seems oblivious to the difficulties of altering product lines on such a massive scale. Think about how hard it is for you to rent a U-Haul truck for an afternoon — calling the rental place, confirming your rental, arguing with the guy at the shop about your reservation, paying, etc… Now imagine trying to renegotiate contracts with thousands of independent parts suppliers, outfitting hundreds of manufacturing centers with new equipment for producing more light cars, realigning the global shipping routes of hundreds of thousands of 2,000 pound packages, calculating product distribution charts among dealerships in hundreds of countries, and rolling out brand-new multimillion dollar sales, accounting, human resources, and supply chain software to support it all. And that’s before you consider how to market your new cars or, you know, figure out what they should look like. [Yes, I write about shit like this for a living. Bored? Deal with it.]

But Leno does raise a good point here:

When you get into a high-priced, well-made American car today and the key is in the ignition, you hear a melodic bong, bong. But when you get in a cheap American car, like a rental, and the key is left in, it goes plink, plink, plink. It’s just horrible. Every time you use the turn signal, it’s like breaking a chicken leg. In order to make the more expensive car more appealing, U.S. companies feel as though they have to dumb down the cheaper car.

In other words, automakers have to recognize that buying wisely is a virtue and not a sin — and they have to design cars accordingly. Also, would it kill them to make the cup holders bigger? I can hardly fit my magnums of Cristal in most of them.

Jay Leno’s Serious Advice to the U.S. Auto Industry [Wired]

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Wednesday afternoon filler: Train horns

Pax Arcana

Sorry for the lack of posts. Pax Arcana has been overburdened today with meetings, interviews, carrot cake, and plumbing the shallows of Father Scott’s imaginary love life.

To atone for this paucity of hilarity, I offer you the following classic video. It’s a car with a train horn scaring the crap out of people. It’s funnier than it sounds.

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Toyota is desperate to kill your grandparents and anyone who gets in their way

old-drivers.jpgThe AP has a story today about Toyota’s efforts to develop automotive technology to make it easier for old people to drive.

Among technologies on the table is a that can determine a driver’s driving patterns and curb any dangerous activity, Kawashima said. It could, for example, slow the car if it senses the driver is hitting the gas pedal for no reason.

Future developments could involve a navigation system and temperature controls that help drivers stay alert, he said.

We say kudos to Mr. Kawashima and his amazing mind-reading fogey training wheels. We’ve often thought to ourselves, upon encountering a confused septuagenarian tracing wide circles across the Shaw’s parking lot with the trunk open and two cats on the roof, that there just had to be something that would allow her to stay on the road longer.

Maybe when he’s done with that little project, Mr. Kawashima can develop splatter-proof asphalt and brain-regenerative yogurt. We have a feeling we’re gonna need both.

Toyota to Develop Cars for Seniors [Wired]

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