Industry

The Automotive Industry

Cars changed: Instead of mediocre crapmobiles that rust and rot, wobbling, squeaking and rattling, down the road, they’ve become durable, quality pieces.

It’s funny to see old cars in period-piece movies. Consistently pristine, sparkling and smokeless, unlike the real cars in the 50s through 70s that were clapped-out, ratted-out, rotted out, smoke-spewing and noisy. Hoopties with terminal road rash, barely kept alive — and this was sometimes after only a couple years of use. That’s a flaw that movie-makers don’t seem to remember (though movies set in California, where issues like rust were much less dire, are somewhat more realistic, though they still forget about the exhaust problem).

Young whippersnappers don’t realize that you just didn’t see 20-year-old cars on the road in the sixties. If you did, it would be a restored novelty. And an old Edsel, ’61 Fury, ’62 Dodge, batwing ’59 Chev. Impala or 1958-60 Lincoln would scare the hell out of you. Those ’60 Ford Fairlanes, too. And never mind some of the queer imports that came our way. Now, it’s routine to see cars 30, 40 years old, and many still look good, with styling that has held up, and in fact better than a lot of the new wild stabs at design.

What was remarkable, though, wasn’t the improvement in cars. Or that automotive styling held up for longer without becoming so dated. It was the change in mindset, at the car companies.

In the past, almost everyone seemed to intuit that vehicles were only built to last a few rounds in the asphalt jungle, then retire young to the crusher. Emphasizing that perception, were the annual model changes that meant a big accusing finger pointing your way if you drove an out-of-fashion car.

Quick & Dirty Summary

  • Introduction and some history: Looking at the changes
  • The folly of cars
  • NAFTA
  • GM’s dirty game
  • VW gets buggered
  • Overextending the budget: People buying more car than they can afford
  • Planning for disaster: What are the car companies anticipating?
  • Autonomous Electric Cars: Pros and Cons
  • Autonomous Electric Cars: Car Services
  • Discussion/Conclusions

Strike that. Cars did change for the better, back in the late 1980s-1990s. Then the insanity took hold and cars were overcomplicated and over-regulated by “safety nanny” obsessive-compulsives.

The apex was probably in the early 90s. Car design was quite refined, without being over-styled, weight was way down, helping attain some of the best fuel economy ever, and cars were quite nimble and not over-sized.

Then the downfall.

In the name of (hypothetical) safety, cars became overweight, and overly technically complicated as they tried to reconcile the contradictory demands for better gas mileage and better crash ratings. Overweight, due to required reinforcement to meet unrealistic crash standards, cars got stupid as the quest for fuel economy resulted in absurd complication, to address the inherent problems with gas engines.

There was no benefit associated with the sick joke of “automotive safety measures” introduced over the last 20 or so years. Visibility is obscured by slit windows and thick pillars, airbags are potential killers, and systems for “driving assistance,” make drivers inattentive and complacent — like the fool who was decapitated when he let his “self-driving” car plow its way under a tractor-trailer.

And cars became overly computerized. Point them upward and they could fly you to Mars. Of course, such features are a clever ruse. Instead of rotted floorboards, sills and fenders, instead it is the complex electronics that’s going to go boobs-up and outdated and force you to scrap the car, because that stuff is too expensive to repair out of warranty, in a revised form of “planned obsolescence.”

Yes, look at cars. Now, rather than devices of convenience and to exercise freedom, they are a control mechanism, and money extraction and redistribution machine for the state. Police terror, state revenue, and manipulation of the masses are the real reasons we are even allowed to travel in cars in the first place. Knowing that, we can easily predict the future of transportation, because, like mechanical inertia, we know that undesirable things of a social and political nature tend to continue on the same path if not corrected.

I like to think of myself as a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to cars, but that’s just making the best of a bad thing. It’s possible that gasoline cars got solidly established, only due to vast subsidies thrown at the petroleum industry. And the taxation to pay for the infrastructure, like highways. Refineries, distribution systems, pipelines, oil exploration — all of it, enormous investment, was financed on the backs of taxpayers.

If the thought, effort and investment that went into the improvement of gas vehicles had been applied to electric cars and their batteries, we’d long since have had fantastic, practical electric transportation.

The whole “car craze” is nearing the end — perhaps it was a foolish phenomenon that should never have been necessary. Electric cars were more than adequate, then and now, plus they’re quicker, to boot. Electrical power would have been far superior, and saved a lot of peoples’ health. Exhaust fumes work to poison the population, particularly when it was full of lead — an element that is now said to have been unnecessary for even those old engines.

Nevertheless people love to snort up exhaust fumes — or at least are complacent. And some auto journalists love to pile the scorn on electric cars. But they don’t consider how wildly stupid gasoline engines are when used in cars. To try to make them ante up a few hard-gotten gains, engineers have to pile on complex engineering solutions like variable valve timing, variable compression, direct injection, multiple scroll turbochargers, engine start/stop, 9- and 10-speed transmissions and CVT transmissions, and more. In chainsaws, marine motors and airplanes, engines make more sense because of their relatively light weight compared to a motor with batteries, range and flexibility.

After over 135 years of development, we still face the absurdity of having to spend thousands to fix our cars. Sometimes it’s something minor, like a bad seal, but still a multi-thousand dollar job. Or perhaps the timing belt broke on an interference engine, completely ruining it. To repeat, it boggles the mind to think of how internal combustion (I.C.) engines got a foothold. And it can go at any time! Just over something like a plugged lube channel that can freeze a bearing.

Nope, I.C. should have never reached such penetration in the market, and it only got a foothold, then a monopoly, because of illegitimate use of tax money to foster an otherwise unsustainable business model. There’s no way to assess the damage decades of unnecessary tetra-ethyl lead used in cars has caused, but at least now people uniformly agree it was bad.

They never really wanted cars to progress. We know they haven’t progressed much, because a small independent company can, at times, run rings around what the big makers have come up with. Christian Von Koenigsegg’s car company, for example, has only around 200 cars out on the road, yet has some of the most advanced engineering. He pulled the transmission out of his supercar, the Regera, and made it the world’s fastest accelerating car to 250 MPH! But the rest of the auto industry is seemingly oblivious. To spell it out: He proved you don’t need conventional transmissions in cars, and it is more efficient to not have them! Now shouldn’t that be an occasion for joy and rapid mobilization in factories to reflect the improvement? Anytime you can remove a complex component, you get a huge advantage.

Now, a fluid coupling/torque converter still connects the V-8 engine to the differential at the rear end of this hybrid car, but it doesn’t contribute to the car’s propulsion until about 30 MPH. Before that, electric motors provide the drive. With an effectively one-speed transmission, no gearing, the drive ratio has to be pretty high, since the engine can only rev so fast. Despite that the Regera is a supercar, any common hybrid could still exploit the technology. And why wouldn’t a manufacturer want to?

But simplification doesn’t seem to be a goal for the mainstream automakers. No, Rube Goldberg levels of absurd complexity are what they seek.

The auto companies are afraid of looking foolish. Not Invented Here syndrome — they didn’t think of it, despite being in business for a century or more in some cases, so they have to save face by ignoring innovation. But they needn’t worry: They already do look foolish.

No, the North American car makers never subscribed to continuous progress and improvement. They only shuffled the deck until they were forced to change. The Japanese and Germans makers began to eat their lunch, and that was the catalyst for their improvement starting in the 1980s.

Hell, they still regress, a lot of times. Certainly styling, in most cases, has seemed to have gone for a crap in the backyard and never returned. Engineering, too. Packard automobiles, back in the ’50’s, had an interconnected torsion bar suspension that linked front and rear wheels in a way that let you run over railway tracks at speed and hardly know they were there. Tucker cars had a central “cyclops” headlight that tracked the steering, so you could see where you were going when turning. They’re just rediscovering that now in some luxury cars that have movable beams.

Look at Pattakon’s technical solutions to improve the I.C. engine. There’s Bruce Crower’s six-stroke engine. The Bishop rotary valve also got short-shrift. Automakers should be jumping up to use and invest in these things, but don’t, showing how controlled the system is.

And the scum car manufacturers never did anything to help drivers avoid stupid issues with the police. They don’t offer built-in radar detectors for places that permit it, for one.

How about stealth design to make cars less visible to radar? No, not gonna happen, that’s for sure.

When Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) became more powerful, car makers should have jumped to use them instead of idiotic old-style filament bulbs, so you aren’t getting pulled over for “broken taillight,” but adoption of LEDs is taking forever. Funny, how few cars have callouts for bad lights on the dashboard — it’s like they want you getting tickets.

Progress, simplification, and elimination of parts where possible are all important parts of engineering, especially a complex system like an auto.

The Toyota Prius proves a point. Somehow, by adding an electric motor and heavy battery pack, you can massively improve the efficiency of the gas engine. So how much more do you improve it by ditching the stupid engine and its paraphernalia, then? That gives it away: If the car is more efficient with two powertrains than one, one of the powertrains is surely a dud.

Well, that should be true, but in the case of I.C. and Electric, the two complement, filling in for one another’s weak areas. For the electric motor, the weakness is solely attributable to batteries.

Yes, batteries leave something to be desired, but they were never developed and optimized for cars. Still, the first Tesla, modified from a Lotus Elise sports car, used laptop-type batteries in bundles, and managed to be quicker in a straight line than the I.C.-engined car it was based on. I still get a grin thinking of Jay Leno’s antique electric that he had to “prep,” merely by topping up the 100-year-old battery with some water! I think it was the 1909 Baker Electric, since he seems to have a few early electrics.

Old car exhaust was horrendous, and even now it’s no rose petal perfume — there is still a real issue when a cold car starts up and it spews something horrific, before the cat converters are primed to do their thing. But I.C. was a great business plan. It gave a vast market to a bunch of swindlers who had large holdings in petroleum, it produced an industry with high barriers to entry (meaning big profits for banks from bank loans to car manufacturers, and the convenience of few competitors, allowing a select group to dominate), and it poisoned the environment that we live in. That’s why I.C. was pushed.

Note that Henry Ford tried to get around a petroleum monopoly by making his Model T run on hemp oil, but of course they manufactured a big hysterical crusade against hemp to counter that.

And, what do you know? Hemp oil produces lower emissions during combustion than petroleum fuels, produces fabrics, food, paper, fuel oil… And it is cultivable almost everywhere. Hemp could be economic, allowing us to grow our own indefinitely renewable fuel stocks, though it would need economy of scale. Yet they still gripe, moan, whine and complain about “Peak Oil! Peak Oil!” Obviously the message, that hemp oil is cleaner burning, did not get through, or was ignored.

Of course, business continues to resist work-at-home, too, though we are now more than fully suited-up to embrace that for white collar jobs. That would save plenty of “Carbon Gas Emissions.”

Thinking about the political scene, a potential reason for all the crap cars produced in North America, particularly of the 1950s and 1970s, comes to mind. The car industry probably thought it was sure to get away with lousy manufacturing, due to faith in lobbyists. The manufacturers no doubt thought that they would get an embargo or tariffs put in place against the Japanese and Germans. They may have succeeded if the intent were not to move the manufacturing base out of North America, (the reasons, among many: to bring North American industry to its knees, to keep wages down and to tap cheaper workers overseas).

Yes, pretty cocky in North America, blissfully unaware, and it started quite a while ago. General Morons — er, Motors — GM, thought about building an ’60s Opel model from Germany — the Diplomat — in the U.S., as a Cadillac, but the tolerances in North American factories were so poor, they couldn’t match the specs for the car and weren’t able to do the job.

NAFTA

They knew when they signed treaties like NAFTA, that jobs would be, in the words of Ross Perot, “sucked out” of the country.

Then the domestic automakers all failed (yes, even Ford, which received mostly unpublicized stealth handouts), and we were treated to the farce of bailouts to “save jobs.” They don’t give a damn about jobs. Real unemployment is something like 30%+ in the U.S. right now.

I wonder where the “free markets” were, when governments were bailing out the car makers, on our dime, for billions upon billions of dollars?

General Morons

An instance of the car industry as a money redistribution machine: the excuse of General Motors going bankrupt, used to rob the taxpayer ($10+ billion losses admitted to, in the fallout) and move money to cronies.

They didn’t care about the “jobs they saved,” in bailing out GM (however, they do care about image, the way they are perceived, so don’t want too many jobs to disappear too obviously at one time. Also, they do care about one of their most important tools: grandstanding). They introduced NAFTA, wanting to destroy jobs. And the GM bailout saved nothing. They said, “Oh, the suppliers would have gone under, too,” an absurd statement, because the other makers would produce more vehicles to take up GM’s slack, therefore requiring just as many parts and suppliers, and business interests would have bought the productive parts of GM, and continued to make the Chevys and GMCs that sell.

GM served up boatloads of trash for generations, then stuck you with the bill when the final tally came due, via corporate welfare and bailouts, and buggered over its stock and bond holders. Then, adding insult to injury, it opened right back up again, under the same trading symbol, “GM.” With the same goons on top.

And yet, it still has its loyal suckers. It should have gone broke. The bailout was not to save “millions of jobs,” it was to protect the privileged class, and now it’s going under, anyway. One site says its current chance of bankruptcy is 45%.

Management flunkies are somehow in bed with government, and entrench themselves, when our current system of “management” needs to be gone.

GM is a den of idiots.

A few possible solutions for GM’s woes include making their best cars the Buicks. Caddies should be simply re-skinned Buicks, but flamboyantly styled, while Buicks are stylish, but sensible. It worked in the past: people bought the Buicks, basically identical to Caddies underneath, but more sensibly priced.

Perhaps Corvette should imitate Porsche and Ferrari by having it’s own four-door GT and a sport CUV.

Perhaps it should license the best tech from companies like Koenigsegg. It seems GM shouldn’t do its own original research, it is just too incompetent at it and ends up dumping billions every time. Leave that to the professionals. For example, now that GM is moving in the electric direction, the masters of the universe there have already blown $800 million on recalls for their electric Chevy Volt.

I’d suggest it buy a controlling stake in whichever company has the most advanced tech. For example, Tesla or other “green” carmaker, if they have the best electrics. Tesla is so far in debt, it may be a lost cause, but there are some interesting startups out there that may be suitable. But, no, it’d just ruin whatever company it got its claws into, so that’s out.

GM Market Share

Yikes!

The site, stockdividendscreener.com, has a nice chart of GM’s market share, broken down for U.S., China and South America, and what a chart. To summarize:

GM Market Share by Region
U.S. China S. America
year 2014 17.4 14.8 16.6
year 2020 17.1 11.6 14.9
loss 0.3 3.2 1.7

It’s not that it’s falling that rapidly, but remember, it had a 50% U.S. market share in the ’60s, and now it’s still losing ground in all markets. And this is after all the effort to “make it healthy again!”

GM Perfidy

Letting GM go would have strengthened the economy. For example, they’re still producing Cadillacs, despite low sales. I’m sorry, but the new ones are ugly, crude-looking things with no resale value, that no sensible wealthy man would want any part of. The ‘Slade could have been shuffled off to GMC, but Cadillackluster should have been “expired.” Even when they come up with a desirable concept car, they can’t even produce it, with the excuse that they don’t have a platform to fit it. What kind of an auto company, with a heritage tracing back over 100 years, doesn’t even understand the function of concept cars? They produce something meant to gauge public interest in a styling direction, then when they find something that tickles fancies, they ditch it? Dissolving GM, and purging the idiots that still run it, would have cleaned out the incompetent deadwood.

And with the resurrection of that bunch of creeps we now see things like this, as reported by GM Inside News:

The Empire Strikes Back, GM-Backed Legislation Attempts to Sink Silicon Valley

Several states are considering adopting a General Motors-backed bill that would exclude technology companies from testing autonomous driving technology within their borders, if passed, the legislation would restrict the operation of self-driving fleets to traditional vehicle manufacturers.

So, they’re still up to their old scummy lobbying tricks, this time trying to hobble Silicon Valley. Furthermore, everything is still an excuse with them. They can’t make any money off hybrid cars, like their Volt, which I think I’ve seen maybe three of on the roads, while Toyota cleans up with its Prius, and it is so reliable and economical, it seems to be taking over the taxis. I asked a taxi driver about his and he was raving about its goodness and how it had 260,000 km (160,000 miles). The car showed little wear, too. I don’t care for the styling and it apparently sucks as a driver’s/enthusiast’s car, but most people just want economical and reliable A->B transportation, making those aspects irrelevant.

By bailout logic, every business that is going down should be bailed. Little Jimmy’s Lemonade stand? Of course, because the lemon producers will suffer if little Jimmy doesn’t buy their lemons. People are wrong to still buy GM’s lemons, too. They seem to be better made, these days, but they aren’t as good as the foreign makers, and their former strong suit, styling, is a complete shambles. I think the company is crooked as hell, and, of course, it, too, spies on its customers.

I remember a GM worker being very confident, years before the bankruptcy, but when the fish was only just starting to rot from the head, that he had it on good sources that there were no worries. Government would never let GM go bankrupt because jobs! Well, he was right about government saving GM, but “jobs” was just the excuse.

GM is crony capitalism and the auto industry is a money redistribution machine.

In a recent incident of its customary wretched behavior, GM is now using the police as its goon squad, sending them out to arrest people, after accusing those they gave overnight loaners to of stealing the car (this from Scotty Kilmer, August 2021).

VW

Were they trying to protect GM with the stunt they pulled on Volkswagen? VW has probably the best finished small cars. Unfortunately, they are very expensive, and not very reliable. $26,000 for a nicely equipped Golf.

But after reviewing both sides of the story on that debacle where VW was pilloried, scorned and fined, with its executives brought up on charges, we see that its “emissions scandal” was a ridiculous witch hunt.

The VW case is rather sad, and they didn’t have the guts to fight back. In some cases they withdrew their excellent diesel engines from the market.

The problem had nothing to do with “cheating,” they were attacked because their engines were too good, (when they’re working, that is), providing good mileage, plus low emissions. If they’re using less gas, it doesn’t matter if emissions are slightly higher than claimed, because you have to multiply consumption by emissions to come up with total pollution.

Besides that, the engines did achieve what they advertised, but the engine controls tweaked the engines to produce less oxides of nitrogen when the car’s computer detected it was being tested. Actually, all the manufacturers use some sort of “cheat,” since it seems no cars actually perform to their tested numbers in the real world. VW met the specified numbers under testing conditions, so it isn’t as though they bribed someone to look the other way and fill in bogus figures. It’s just it couldn’t meet their optimum results all at the same time (fuel mileage, emissions levels and power).

Think of all those harpies howling for blood over something like this, when all their real sins are tucked away, hidden in obscurity.

Overextending the Budget

Today, the proliferation of all these BMWs, Audis, Mercedes (BAMs) and other high-end vehicles on the road is disturbing. It would be like seeing, growing up in the sixties and seventies, vast numbers of Caddies and Rolls-Royces on the road, with hordes of Mercedes 600s, Jags and Bentleys taking up the slack. Back in the day, in my neck of the woods, more than just a few new Buicks, Chryslers and Country Squires would be a shocker. That was a time when just power windows were more than a bit “showy,” and far too “spendy.” $38.00? Outlandish! (If anyone even bothered to shop them out.) Air-con was another “luxury,” that had to be sold on its practical benefits, like helping defog the windows, and even at that took a long time to get a foothold.

I don’t think they were even informed enough to sell A/C on the miracle of helping stop you dying from heat stroke in the summer. No one cared, “going for a ride” was enough of an extravagance. Ah, the ’60s and ’70s. Burned on those idiotic vinyl seats — summer scorching on shorts-clad legs, heat exhaustion, clouds-o-stink from foul, lead-contaminated exhausts, usually rich in tinges of black and blue, burned arms on hot chrome trim, and more, were all part of the “fun.”

Cars were either crap, or… not. If you fluked a good one, it could be very well built, tolerating much abuse, mainly in the form of typical slapdash, afterthought maintenance. Now, times have changed, and they’re not overbuilt so much as overwrought.

Yes, times have changed, and all these BAMs don’t reflect a thriving and prosperous society, but lucky leases and seven-year “underwater” car loans.

$350/month luxury car leases, to push people into vehicles they can’t really afford. The overpopulation of “luxury” cars and SUVs prowling the roads is a dumb anomaly. Before you buy or lease a luxury car, you must (or should, rather) be a luxury person. That is, earning big money, like $200,000+ annually, not 50, 60, 70K. But white bread and watery mayo people are down there signing contracts anyway, then we hear the “shocking” statistics that no one has anything stashed away for retirement, or contingencies.

End Game

You can’t protect people against themselves, but this used to be self-regulating. You had to have the cash or find someone to lend it to you, and they had standards, to ensure they would get their money back. Things are so twisted now, they expect a certain percentage “default,” and it actually makes them richer somehow. No sweat off their brows, since they’ve been collecting on the car via monthly payments, then they just repossess the car and resell it for an inflated price on the same terms, to different people that can’t afford it.

This is another change from the “norm” that reflects a bad turn in society, and toward more ruthless profiteering. It shapes what is coming, and is evidence of a spooky “end-game” to push people out of cars altogether.

Meaning? That the auto industry will just basically become a government agency, with guaranteed profits, producing generic automated cars. The cars will have to interface with government control systems. And that will mean various new “certifications” that government can withhold at will.

Something Weird Is Happening

Is Fiat-Chrysler (FCA), now Stellantis, planning for disaster?

A while back, new car season came and went, and FCA… Oooh… they released a “special edition,” Blackout Version RAM truck, with the grille blacked out!” And that seemed to be the extent of the years’ efforts! That was new car season? Now, the new Stellantis organization is barely budging on any new product, just a lot of big talk. Are they anticipating a world with fewer and more standardized cars, so there’s not much point in spending money on development?

GM and Ford are dropping most of their cars, concentrating on trucks and SUVs, inevitably losing more market share. What’s going on?

Autonomous Electric Cars

The push for cars to go automated, has a twist where we’ll still pay through the nose, and they’ll still make the police presence known. What excuses might they use for a police presence if the cars drive themselves? Well, they’ll just do what they always have: Not modify the “laws” to reflect the changes in technology. You’ll still get hit for “speeding,” even if the car is self-driving, because, “it’s your responsibility to ensure your car’s computer is in good order and won’t allow car to speed.” And there will be “emergency roadblocks” to ensure vehicles on the road are unmodified, “safe,” etc. After all, for saafeteee, all those computers, cameras and sensors will have to be very well maintained! Even “drunk driving/drunk riding,” checks, just because.

Self-driving cars could be a terrific boon. For one thing, you could set up their algorithms so there were never any traffic jams. By reducing and increasing speeds of travel as appropriate, you could approach the multiples of uncongested traffic that our roads were designed for. It’s the bad driving idiots, the Road Tards, that muck everything up, so pulling them out of the picture would make everyone happier. There would be no motivation to run red lights, velocities could be much higher, there would be no daily tension for the commuter…

Too good to be true. You can count on government to step up and ruin the potential benefits for all of us. Not only that, the generic “every-car,” will mean no more distinct brands or styling. That is pretty much inevitable, like the “Car of the Future” farce at NASCAR. It will certainly save the manufacturers from the costs of annual styling changes, but make the roadways and the drive that much less interesting. That’ll just be part of it, though.

Some people think we’ll all be on bicycles and on foot while a very few rich travel in electric cars, but that’s a limited view. The future is dystopian, but we’ll probably all be able to buy, or at least travel in, cars, with the disadvantage that these self-driving cars will simply drive you to the police station over complaints, “something someone saw” on a surveillance camera, fines, behind on your cable payment, didn’t buy a dog license this year, you name it. And of course, like other forms of government and corporate buggery, they will be used as spy devices. They already are — General Morons’ OnStar system, for example, can listen in on your conversations, and has been used for exactly that. It’s naïve to say that “they” will always know where you are, minute by minute, where you shop, eat, visit, since they’re already mostly there. There seems to be big money in this form of profiling/tracking, because the information they gather on us is sold and exploited.

Yes, there are many reasons they want to spy on us, and they do, in every way imaginable. For one, the aforementioned money to be made in profiling. If someone knows your behavior, they can sell you things, fine you, frame you, sell your information to others… For another, it’s because the government is composed of criminals and psychopaths. When you have a bunch like that, they think it’s nice to have scapegoats to cover for their own crimes — and also nice to have blackmail material over others. It’s just a matter of course for politicians and their minions. After all, it’s done to them to ensure they toe the line.

Digital currency and self-driving cars are two very “out there” pushes by government. The technical problems and social push-back may make them pipe dreams. For example, the infrastructure investment for autonomous cars, when government is always crying poor, is an issue.

Bob Lutz, a talented former bigwig at GM and Chrysler — one of the good ones — said it’s a 15-25 year wait to full automation, and cottage industries will cater to the rich who want to drive themselves around their private property. Not just Lutz, but a lot of people are predicting this sort of thing, but there are things that point against it, too, like the effects on the auto industry and, consequently, the whole economy. They’re going to have to also modify roads and intersections to make them amenable to automatic control, with the introduction of sensors that interact with the cars. (Things are otherwise too complicated for automation, like 4-way stops, or snowy or flooded roadways.) Thus, there are technical issues that work against the plan. As noted, there’s also going to be hesitation by greedy government that will think it can’t live without all its ticket fines, license fees, parking meter fees, gas taxes… Also, high speed travel on the highways would make the airlines sour, since it would make cars a much better alternative to planes over contiguous land areas. Don’t worry about that, they’ll still hold the same ridiculous speed restrictions. Because “safety,” despite the fact that the whole point of cars is to get from point A to point B, fast.

You also have to wonder if they are thinking of using autonomous cars to replace public transit — trains and buses, which actually would be a smart move.

Ride-sharing has its limitations, since most private car owners don’t want to use them in a system where they can be defiled by careless strangers. Of course, we could end up with a stratified system where the really rich will still be able to purchase and drive their ostentatious rides, while the rabble will be locked into the shared autonomous paradigm, maybe being allowed to drive kiddie cars at the special Disneyland ride, “Back in the Old Days,” or something.

If they really want to push self-driving cars, look for a ramp-up of reports discrediting human drivers, on how unsafe driving is, how many fatal accidents there are, “The Tragic Human Cost,” and so on. And how safe and convenient the “new way” will be. If they go this route, you’ll know they are committed to the autonomous paradigm.

The idea of autonomous cars is a very old one, going back to the Fifties, and before. A Utopian ideal, then. Now, full of sinister connotations.

Favorable and Unfavorable

What people might find favorable, governments find unfavorable, and vice-versa. It’s a mixed bag with autonomous cars.

They could reduce gridlock, save resources, free up drivers to relax or do something productive while on the road. They could mean less money spent on gas, elimination of licensing and fines. All positive for the average driver.

But the ability to track everyone is desirable only to government and those with bad intent. Unemployment due to reduction of car industry workers (and cascading results of that), is no bed of roses either.

And the reduction in gas consumption will be an excuse for more government bellyaching: “We can’t keep up the roads, there’s not enough money coming in from gasoline tax!”

Of course, that will spell higher taxes on electricity, and some new road tax or two.

People (like in the bus drivers’ union), think that there will still be buses, subways, “public transit.” There is a harsh reality awaiting these people, since they should become redundant and unnecessary with robot cars. Existing and future subway tunnels and above-ground guide-ways could still be employed as useful passages for these cars, though.

There could be no traffic lights, but instead threading, with vehicles slowing but not having to stop in intersections.

Opposition

Electric cars were marginalized early last century, since they were potentially more economical and with more potential for sophistication, when they wanted a market for their new “snake oil,” petroleum and its by-products (Rockefeller senior sold raw petroleum as a cure-all medicine for people’s ailments).

Now we’re seeing some attempts to discredit the new electrics, flying in the face of actual owners that really like their cars. They’re focusing on two particularly discredited notions, and one with some validity. That electric cars are “coal burners,” because power plants are run on coal, that we won’t have the power generation capacity to provide for so much new demand on the electrical distribution system, and that they’re “too impractical for their long charging time and inconvenience for long trips.” As though people just got in the car and drove 24 hours straight without any breaks.

Lots of places run hydroelectric and other forms of basically non-polluting generation. And most cars will charge at night when the utilities want more demand to balance out their production without having to constantly change output, which is inefficient. Even for coal plants, it’s easier to cleanse the exhaust output from one source, than from millions of cars.

Also: electric cars “reuse” a lot of their energy, with regenerative braking. So net energy consumption is down versus gasoline cars that do not and cannot recover energy.

The Charging Issue

If structured as a sort of “hive” of cars, autonomous cars will automatically drive off on their own to a charge station when not in use. And even if batteries don’t progress, you could just switch cars at a rest stop. Even the problem of long distance travel for battery cars is solved, with a relay system where new cars are swapped out for old (also negating the need for any “battery swap” stations, put forward as another idea to solve the range issue). With this system, the only people needing to charge will be those who have too much luggage or are moving house. Of course, this is a model easily adapted to trucking, where only the tractor cab portion of the truck need be swapped, something they’re already familiar with.

But why would you really want or need to?

Right now, yes, I.C. is better, because of those issues of range and charging (time and finding a station), but that’s only because of all the infrastructure investment the taxpayer paid for, for I.C. cars, while shunning electrics. Again, this has to be emphasized, because it doesn’t seem to penetrate into popular consciousness that a good chunk of the effort in setting up refineries, oil production, roads and probably even service stations, and automobile plants, is subsidized by government, meaning us.

There is no true technical issue to resolve with electric cars. We could be traveling long distances on highways without any trouble, and with fewer batteries! We could use a charging rail, like electric toy slot cars, or electric trains, purely for recharging on a special lane for that purpose (preferably with no passing, cruise control set). In fact it could charge only when cruise is on. Tolls, if applicable, for electric use, would be collected at the exits, automatically. Battery or hybrid cars could thus choose to recharge on the “Charge-Way.” This would be a great starting point to autonomous driving (and perhaps the only sensible way to really start implementing it practically). The Charge-Way and car interact, so the driver can sleep or watch movies, whatever, after setting his destination. The car could be rigged to wake you up at your exit. Then, after a long trip, you’d arrive with more range than when you started, not something gas cars could boast. Why is this not being seriously explored? Because electric is another deliberate boondoggle. The disingenuous willfully blind know this will work. It’s the same situation as with Henry Ford’s hemp oil fuel. Not profitable enough.

It’s not that this very system of a power rail wasn’t tested. A quick search uncovered this site, which describes how Sweden opened a road with an embedded charging rail, after testing it under salt water, finding it didn’t create any hazard.

There is a technical improvement with a charge rail, too: The rail can run the motors, directly. That means elimination of the inevitable charging losses incurred in charging and discharging a battery. As well, power can be fed back to the rail, when the car is braking, especially down a hill (especially when the car’s battery is fully charged).

An important point to consider: the “slot cars” could have smaller and fewer batteries. All this talk about their environmental burden? Well, this system alleviates the problem. Batteries wouldn’t even have to improve, though they will, with time. Batteries not only are limited and charging time hogs, but they’re incredibly heavy. Fewer batteries means the electric car is more efficient.

Any on-the-road charging, of course, shouldn’t be a taxpayer-subsidized freebie, but should be done on a toll road system so it can calculate a consumption fee for the electricity use, as already implemented in the Swedish road.

Advantages

There’s still only a partial recognition of how far-ranging and sweeping the effects of autonomy could be.

No buses, subways, or public transit are required (along with their concomitant problems, including the drunks, fare jumpers, and assorted idiots and farters people are jammed in with). But also, there’ll be no need for car rental agencies. Hallelujah! No need for horrible long-distance bus trips, fewer planes. Cheaper point to point transportation that can drive you while you sleep. Rather than those expensive boondoggles with Amtrak and monorails to nowhere, simple practical rapid transportation, unhindered by rails or airport requirements.

We have to imagine we could re-purpose existing subway tunnels to provide tunnels for cars to make rapid progress through cities, without the traffic jams of old.

Perhaps people will be more comfortable with a “Johnny Cab”-style robot driver, or even just a computer monitor with a “Max Headroom”-style face on it, as it is more “comforting,” people having the sense of it being “in control,” and able to deal with situations, as opposed to just an anonymous and empty shell driving around.

With autonomy, we would also not be limited to just one vehicle type, but could get custom transportation depending on needs, anything from a mini city car to a bus, or even a semi. Why not, if you need it?

Never a “no start” in the morning or evening.

And of course, seamless prioritizing for ambulances and emergency vehicles will be made simple. The system could be programmed to yield seamlessly, without the need for raucous, disruptive sirens and dangerous maneuvers through traffic.

Charging areas can be situated in spots with lower land use costs. No gas stations (or need for tankers transporting gas), no traffic jams, the ride can be tailored to comfort (for example, by traveling at a mostly constant speed). No queuing waiting on oil changes, for service or insurance.

Electric autonomous cars could also free up parking lots, free up roads, and thereby liberate land for more productive uses. Land in cities is becoming so expensive that this possibility is very attractive.

Homes won’t even need garages any more, freeing up a lot of space, perhaps to put a suite in, as replacement.

True luxury, really.

Disadvantages

Spy cars: They’ll know everything you do, and you probably won’t even be able to stop to take a whiz behind a billboard, if that’s your thing. It will (necessarily) know and track all your movements.

Dispossession: There will be no sense of having a personal possession, a safety and security item, your personal car, at your beck and call, until the apprehensive feeling dissipates, if the system is rigged to be timely and reliable. At first there will be too few autonomous cars as the system is rolling out, but then they’ll, by necessity, push manual cars off the road. Will that lead to more off-roaders and private roads? That’s unpredictable.

The cleanliness issue: Again, people use cars, airplanes and buses, mostly without leaving things in a shambles now. If there’s a type of damage/cleaning deposit assessed to people, they’ll be cautious, too.

Loss of control: Giving up control means a corresponding loss of the fun of driving.

Manufacturers

Modification and consolidation of the car companies will have to happen, because there’ll be no need of huge capital outlay to research and produce basically the same product across manufacturers. That would be unnecessary wastage. Presumably Ford, GM, Stellantis, BMW, Mercedes, VW, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Citroen, Hyundai and the rest would each have to become autonomous car service providers, but there won’t be a need for all these companies. They will merge. It’s only a matter of time, and this is already an ongoing process. For example, FCA and PSA, have just merged to create Stellantis.

Or, existing companies can adapt. The upside is that a new product, consumer robots, can replace cars on the assembly line. As noted in a previous article, it’s odd that no forward-thinking company, like Honda, is already planning or doing this. They could even implement a novel idea: a large “dog robot” that can be configured so it can be ridden like a horse.

It should be very efficient to have one set of optimized chassis for electric cars, but a downside is no competition to spur improvement.

Car Services

On the other hand, manufacturers (or perhaps they’ll be called “transportation service providers”), will have incentive to build better, more durable, longer-lived cars since there will be no need for planned obsolescence. Instead, they’ll want to get as much use out of each vehicle as possible.

Car services, where autonomous cars are shared, look to be inevitable.

Autonomous cars stationed all over makes for a much easier situation for tourists, too.

People could opt for ride sharing, as a cheaper alternative, as well. Some Latin American countries have cab sharing.

And of course, automated deliveries, even cross-country, would be another profit center.

Discussion

Despite the disadvantages, it does appear that the move is toward autonomous cars, and so electric cars are getting subsidized and publicized. Note that it’s the push for more government control over our driving that partially motivated this, since it is somewhat easier to have total control over the fundamentally simpler electrics.

With a commitment to the elimination of I.C. engines, comes the potential benefit — for government and automakers — of another “Cash for Clunkers”-style debacle, where everyone is forced to get their non-automated cars/non-electric cars off the road, and to have to buy new cars. The car industry isn’t just subsidized — to the tune of tens of billions each year by direct cash handouts. There are indirect payments, like “Cash for Clunkers,” that paid car dealers a $3,500-$4,500 subsidy from the federal government, after discounting a new vehicle purchase to someone who traded in an old car.

There will be a huge backlash from the collector car community, if gas cars are restricted, of course. There will probably be certain special concessions for them — if they’re willing to pay through the nose for permits to travel — and then they’ll probably be limited to certain roads only.

At first, I thought it might actually be a great boon to get the crazies away from the steering wheel, but, on further consideration, driving within and around robotic cars may be more frustrating than the unruly mayhem of the mob — the “madding crowd.” At least most people are trying to proceed quickly, while robot cars will move at the lowest common denominator — that is, dead slow.

Someone else thinks the electrics won’t be much fun. Another thinks they’re being shoved down our throats and aren’t justifiable in a “free market.”

First off, most everyone, sensibly, likes electric cars for their clean operation, fierce acceleration and quiet running. Just because you don’t have a spewing exhaust from a stinky engine screaming like a banshee doesn’t mean a car isn’t “fun.” There can still be premium cars, sports cars, and so on.

Electrics are a boon to the average person who won’t have to finance oil changes, nor the absurd repair bills for hopelessly complex I.C. engines, nor pay for gasoline. The sky won’t fall on the petroleum industry, either, because petrochemicals still have huge markets for plastics and other synthetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, lubricants, asphalt, jet fuel…

People who get agitated about the passing of combustion engines don’t think things through, but often just froth at the mouth and bare their teeth. Then they seize on excuses. “You’ll be recharging every few miles, and never get anywhere! I’m not going to look like a fool and sit for four hours at a stretch to recharge 80% and only go 200 miles!”

Or there is that repetitive lament that the power companies will “brown out” with all the new demand, when it’s already been made clear that most electrics will recharge at night and actually improve grid efficiency via load leveling.

The sour attitudes themselves prove they aren’t even trying, but just looking for a snivel session.

This is not to say that electrics are 100% of the way there yet. Under the current misconceptions, and resistance towards real solutions, that is. As soon as the mindset changes, they’ll be ready.

In the meantime, some form of hybrid solution, like the Prius, is probably the best compromise.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *