Tag: cars

On Hole Cards, Or, “Drill, Baby, Drill”? Why? Is Canada Out Of Sand?

In America, today, there are three kinds of drivers: those who look at the other gas pumps down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much that guy’s spending on gas”, those who look at their own pump down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I’m spending on gas” – and those who are doing both at the same time.

Naturally, this has brought the Sarah Palins of the world back out in public, and once again the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” can be heard all the way from the Florida coast to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But what if those folks have it exactly backwards?

What if, in a world of depleting oil resources, the last thing you want to do is use yours up?

To put it another way: why isn’t all our oil part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

I’m In Love With My Car

They are unfeeling metal monsters. They’ve taken over the world. They have us surrounded. They’re everywhere. They remorselessly kill and maim more people every year, at least in North America, than all the terrorists ever dreamed of in all the worst nightmares sold to us by politicians, and in all the wars going on around the world.

They are bankrupting our economy and destroying our planet. They show no respect for human life. There’s a good chance one or more of them will kill you or someone in your family soon, if they haven’t already done so.

They are dirty bombs that have polluted and poisoned the entire earth. Besides our homes, they consume the largest part of our disposable income, and produce the largest portion of the personal debt carried by most people.

Yet over the past century they have become our life. We can’t live with them. But we can’t live without them, it seems.


On Improbable Realities, Part One, Or, “I Want A Jet Car With Frickin’ Lasers…”

When it comes to getting around, Americans love to consider the question of “what if…?”

As a result, our cars have evolved into “land yachts”, our trucks have become “monster trucks”, and the desire to drag our living spaces around with us has morphed into converted busses with rooms that pop out of the side, a Mini-Cooper hidden under the master bedroom floor, and self-tracking satellite dishes that fight for space on the roof with air conditioning equipment.

And for more than a few of us, “what if…?” has even extended to “what if my car…was a jet car?”

In today’s improbable reality I’m here to tell you that Chrysler engineers asked that exact same question, for roughly a quarter of a century, and as a result they actually designed and deployed seven generations of cars with jet engines-and they came darn close to putting the eighth-generation design on sale to the general public.

It’s a story of pocket protectors and slide rules and offices full of guys who look a bit like Drew Carey…but as we’ll see in Part Two, it may also be a story of technology that couldn’t be perfected “back then”, but could be reborn in our own times.

Who Resurrected the Electric Car?

The startup company Better Place, that’s who!

The scheme these guys have undertaken solves one of the major problems of electric cars: recharging.  Better Place’s approach: replace the whole battery in less time than it takes to fill up a tank with gas!  Recharge the batteries at leisure and reuse.  If you buy an electric car, you subscribe to their service and can swap out drained batteries for recharged ones at properly equipped stations.  The other crucial step in the process is to connect up with fuel stations to install the replacement bays.  Wherever you can get gas, you can get a battery! Here’s a cool demo of the technology.

Who knows if this will work?  But it seemed to me to be a pretty interesting concept.

“Many Americans have already bought their last car”

In his most recent missive, “Presto Change-o“, James Howard Kunstler shares his thoughts on bailing out the big three American automakers.

The dilemma is essentially this: the consumer economy we all knew and loved has died. There will be pressure from nearly every quarter to keep it hooked up to the costly life support machines even though it is dead. A different economy is waiting to be born, but it is nothing like the one that has died. The economy-to-come is one of rigor and austerity. It is not the kind of thing that a nation of overfed clowns is used to. Do we even have a prayer of getting to it, or are we going to squander our dwindling resources on life support for something that is already dead?

A case in point: the car industry. The Big Three, all functionally bankrupt, are now lined up for bail-outs from the treasury’s bottomless checking account. Personally, I believe the age of Happy Motoring is over. Many Americans have already bought their last car — they just don’t know it yet.

The changing reality that is our cratering, consumer-driven economy won’t stop the big three automakers from asking for a bailout.

Manufacturing Monday: Week of 10.20.08

Happy Monday, folks, I do hope you all had a good weekend!  Welcome to another installment of Manufacturing Monday!  Now things are looking bad out there, as many of you probably already know.  We start out with more dire jobs news at GM. Turning to some good news, it seems economic forces that made us “costly” has now turned the tables of sorts, with ironically the biggest pusher of China, Wal-mart (or is it Walmart?  I’ve seen this store both ways.) forcing suppliers to look domestically.  Lastly, we got Honda moving more work to North America. But first, as is par for the course, we get to the latest economic info related to manufacturing.  So without further adieu…

Freedom from the car

Want to be free of cars? Neal Peirce writes:

Bikes, overall, account for 37 percent of Amsterdam transport. Public transit comes in second, at 22 percent of trips. On top of regular and high-speed rail, there’s a massive light-rail network — 50 miles of tramlines, with many stops, dense in the center city, radiating out to neighborhoods and suburbs with cross-connecting lines too. Recently, freight tramcars began running through the city, cutting truck use (and pollution). And Amsterdam has added three new subway lines since its first in 1976.

So what’s the Amsterdam game plan? For decades it’s been to nurture the “compact city,” slowing a middle-class exodus and preserving the open landscape by dense development, recycling old industrial areas and intermingling uses. Reducing auto use — now just 41 percent of trips compared to 90 percent-plus in most U.S. cities — is the heart of the plan.

Helped along by the Netherlands’ high gas taxes (per gallon costs are now over $9), the Amsterdam approach not only cuts energy use but provides a starting point for dramatic carbon reduction. But its genius, so rarely discussed in America, is smart land use and curbing the auto use that so easily overwhelms modern world cities.

Cities in the Netherlands like Amsterdam have been busy changing and evolving away from a car transportation system since Jimmy Carter was elected in the United States in 1976. American cities, on the other hand, largely have been pushing for more roads, wider roads, and more cars.

Resulting in, as the International Herald Tribune describes, America’s oil addiction: Chronicle of a crisis foretold.

Over the last 25 years, opportunities to head off the current crisis were ignored, missed or deliberately blocked, according to analysts, politicians and veterans of the oil and automobile industries. What’s more, for all the surprise at just how high oil prices have climbed, and fears for the future, this is one crisis we were warned about. Ever since the oil shortages of the 1970s, one report after another has cautioned against America’s oil addiction.

Even as politicians heatedly debate opening new regions to drilling, corralling energy speculators, or starting an Apollo-like effort to find renewable energy supplies, analysts say the real source of the problem is closer to home. In fact, it’s parked in our driveways.

Nearly 70 percent of the 21 million barrels of oil the United States consumes every day goes for transportation, with the bulk of that burned by individual drivers, according to the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan research group that advises Congress.

People in the Netherlands are paying twice as much — $9 a gallon — for gasoline… and have something to show for it. What does America have to show for $4.50 a gallon gasoline?