Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on October 18, 2017

2016 Nissan Leaf, Image: Nissan

Over the past twenty or so years, I have come to firmly believe that the largest problem facing humanity is lack of consciousness. Sounds trite, doesn’t it?

But I’m not talking about “mindfulness” or “caring” or any of that New Age woo-woo. What I mean by “consciousness” is the same thing that Douglas Hofstadter means: the ability to temporarily step outside the actions you are performing, or the thoughts you are having, and consider them from a distance, as a whole. If you can’t do that — if you are unable or unwilling to occasionally evaluate your behavior, your preconceptions, and your desires as if they belonged to someone else — then you are truly no more intelligent than a dog or a computer program or a hurricane.

The conscious individual periodically steps out outside his situation so he can consider whether what he is doing makes any sense whatsoever. You can think of it as “the state of stuckness,” as Robert Pirsig did, or you can call it a “strange loop” as Hofstadter does, but you should learn how to do it. Without that consciousness, you will always be the victim of your environment and whatever information you consume. Lack of consciousness makes people susceptible to everything from autonomous-car crashes to investment bubbles to conspiracy theories.

In this day and age, one of the biggest pitfalls facing the unconscious among us is susceptibility to so-called “fake news,” which I will define here as any news that reinforces our beliefs and cherished ideas but which cannot stand up to even a modest bit of examination. Fake news is the processed sugar of brainfood and, just like processed sugar, we consume it because it makes us feel good in the short term. (Believe me, I know.) What follows is the story of a particularly tempting morsel of processed sugar. Call it a funnel cake, maybe, one that was eagerly consumed everywhere from The Drive to CBS News.

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By on October 18, 2017

carseatkid

A few weeks ago, I told you that I had found the winner of my impromptu let’s-give-away-a-child-seat competition. If you are possessed of an outstanding memory, you will recall that the child seat I was giving away happened to be my son’s Britax Pinnacle 90. If you also happen to know your child seats backwards and forwards (because some are rear facing — get it?) you will note that the child seat in this photo is actually a Britax Boulevard, not a Pinnacle.

What happened and why? Well, it started with a FedEx clerk who was just bright enough to poke buttons on a computer, but no brighter than that…

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By on October 12, 2017

I suffered a nearly fatal narcissistic injury to the journosaur gland when I arrived at the Oakland airport last Friday night, only to find out that my press-loaner 2018 Mazda CX-9 was the Grand Touring model instead of the Signature. Why does this matter? Well, as any self-respecting Mazda fanboy knows, the Signature has a […]

By on October 12, 2017

2015 Ford Mustang GT dirt road

Speed costs money; how fast do you want to go? It’s the kind of thing you see on the back of T-shirts worn by grey-haired men at “Cars and Coffee,” but that don’t make it not true.

With that said, there are a million different ways to spend your speed-seeking dollar, some of them better than others. Which brings us to this week’s $10,000 question…
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By on October 11, 2017

tesla-model-3

Last week I showed you how some electric car “journalists” were reaping massive rewards for recommending Tesla over other electric cars. I also showed you how poorly they reacted to being found out. My coverage of Electrek’s Fred Lambert ended up being linked, referenced, or just flat-out copied in outlets as diverse as the WSJ and Zero Hedge.

As I had feared, however, most of the aforementioned media sources used my articles as stones on which to grind their ax, not mine. My concern was with the ever-more-permeable wall between automotive journalism and outright PR/promotion; theirs was with Tesla as an automaker and/or business entity. For me, this was a story about double dipping, but for them it was yet another example of reality distortion on the part of Elon Musk and his secretive cabal.

There are plenty of Tesla skeptics out there, including this site’s august founder, who once referred to Model S early ordering as a “Ponzi scheme,” and two former Editors-In-Chief of TTAC. I’m not one of them. Sure, I’m happy to admit that the company has a long history of playing fast and loose with the facts, and I’ll also freely stipulate the idea that Tesla as a whole is so entirely dependent on government subsidies as to be completely unviable without the steady drip of corporate welfare. What I want to suggest to you is that none of that matters, as conclusively proven by a series of trips I recently took to Western Europe and Northern California.

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By on October 6, 2017

2018-jeep-wrangler-jl-towing-4

Time to eat my words. Two years ago, I said the real reason there’s no Jeep pickup is this: A Jeep and a pickup are the same thing. I was wrong. The JL Wrangler Pickup is apparently a sure thing, although I’ll believe the existence of a two-door version when I see it in showrooms.

Let’s assume for a moment that Jeep will start by selling a four-door Wrangler with a 6.5 foot bed, pretty much like all the mules that have been spotted running around. Where will the volume for this vehicle originate? And how much of that volume will there be?

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By on October 5, 2017

img_20171004_155036

What is it about these wacky new-school post-enthusiast autowriters? Prior to last week, I thought that Wayne “50 percent of the time I am an automotive journalist” Gerdes of CleanMPG was probably the loosest screw in the business, what with the drafting at 70 mph and letting a Ranger run wild through a subdivision with the engine off. It didn’t help my estimation of Wayne’s sanity that the payoffs he received for risking life and limb in the service of advertorial content were so Mickey Mouse. Why risk running over an animal or child just to save a few pennies on fuel and/or pick up a couple grand from an automaker?

Electek‘s Fred Lambert is playing for slightly higher stakes, as we revealed in last week’s piece on his double life as “impartial” electric car journalist and compensated Tesla referrer. In fact, since we ran the article Fred managed to get his eighth referral, entitling him to a second $7,200 Tesla Powerwall and bringing the total potential take for his advocacy into the $30,000 range. And while he never found the time to return my e-mails or engage with me regarding his behavior, when Automotive News decided to put him on blast he didn’t hesitate to start getting ugly with young Katie Burke about what he perceived as a “non-story.”

Nor did he think twice about implying that he would kill a Ford employee — a threat he retracted and blamed on his phone.

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By on September 29, 2017

fred

Imagine the following scenario: Your humble author buys an Accord Coupe, and loves it, and suggests that you do the same. Not so hard to imagine, insofar as that’s what actually happened.

Now let’s imagine I tell you that you, the TTAC reader, can get a discount on an Accord if you use my referral code. That’s kind of odd, right? After all, I’m here to report on the Accord, not to incentivize your purchase. Last but not least, let’s imagine that for every four Accords sold with my referral code, Honda gives me $6,200 worth of Honda products. A new CBR500, maybe, or an ATV for my son. And let’s say that there’s actually more to it than that — in fact, for every four Accords I sell, I can receive up to eleven thousand dollars’ worth of goodies.

Last but not least, let’s imagine that I hold a significant amount of Honda stock and that my posts are written with the knowledge that positive Honda stories might help that stock move in a direction that is profitable for me.

Sounds crazy, right? Welcome to the world of Fred Lambert and his site, electrek.co.

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By on September 29, 2017

devillpickup

This is the day of the expanding man… and of the expanding pickup truck trim level. I’ve speculated elsewhere about a truck-based luxury sedan from General Motors, but other possibilities exist for the current GM full-sized platform.

There’s just one problem with the idea of a Cadillac-badged pickup: it might force GM, and the automotive media, to come to grips with some unpleasant truths about what really sits on top of the Sloan Plan nowadays.

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By on September 28, 2017

Image: Honda/Youtube

Just two days ago, I asked you to help me find a deserving home for my overpriced, top-of-the-line car seat. I got about 15 emails almost immediately, with suggestions ranging from “Sell it on Craigslist” to “I think my girlfriend is pregnant and we’d like to save a few bucks.”

One of the emails stood out as the immediate and obvious winner.

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By on September 26, 2017

20170925_165902

An army, they say, is always best equipped to fight its last battle. Perhaps that explains why I spent approximately three hundred and fifty dollars on February 17, 2014 to buy a Britax Pinnacle 90 car seat. Not that I was dissatisfied with the Safety1st Air seat that had shielded him from a blizzard of flying glass and very possibly prevented him from a fatal head trauma just forty-three days prior. Far from it. But I wanted to put John in the absolute best car seat money could buy from that day forward. After all, I’d spent about two thousand bucks on the LaJoie custom seat in my little Plymouth Neon — shouldn’t I go out of my way to find the car seat that would do the best job of minimizing any future impacts?

As fate would have it, my son and I were involved in just one minor crash in the three and a half years that followed, courtesy of an amiable stoner who bumped his Mazda2 into the back of my Accord at just above walking pace during this past winter. Although the Pinnacle is rated for children up to 4’11”, John already feels cramped in it at four-four, so earlier this year I swapped the big Britax out for the smaller Freeway SGL booster seat.

What to do with the Pinnacle? I could sell it on Craigslist, trade it in at one of the used-kids-stuff places. Or I could try to pass along a little bit of the good karma that has attended me and my boy ever since we bought it. Which is where you, the TTAC reader, come in.

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By on September 25, 2017

2017-ford-police-interceptor-utility-1lb

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you might recall the incident nearly four years ago when your humble author managed to collect a Hyundai Sonata in the B-pillar. Both I and the woman in the front passenger seat were nontrivially injured in the crash, but the months and years of pain and surgery afterwards were made considerably easier to bear by the fact that my son, who was sitting in the right rear seat, escaped injury. I cannot tell you what I would have done or how I would have felt if he had been injured or killed.

Five months ago, a woman in Albuquerque made a left-hand turn across a busy urban intersection. As she did so, her Ford Escape was struck by a police car traveling at nearly 70 miles per hour. The six-year-old boy in the right rear seat was killed.

After a comprehensive investigation, the county sheriff has recommended that no charges be filed against either the driver of the Ford Escape or the officer who struck the vehicle. Their rationale for that recommendation is easy to see and there’s no reason to Monday-morning quarterback a crash with a result this tragic. We should, however, be talking about the circumstances that made that crash not only possible but likely.

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By on September 22, 2017

BMW acceleration, Image: Bigstock

Did you notice that TTAC was short one article by yours truly this week? Probably not — but if you did, allow me to explain the reason. I’ve spent the entire week doing testing for Road & Track’s Performance Car Of The Year issue. Today, I drove 10 mostly brilliant and remarkably capable vehicles against the clock around the NCM West course, ranging from a Honda Civic Type R to a Lamborghini Huracan Performante and a McLaren 720S.

I think that a lap around NCM West is a good indicator of a car’s speed, insofar as it includes everything from a straight-line drag race to some unpleasant off-camber turns that can send a car sideways at freeway speeds or well above. If you asked me how fast a car was, I would suggest you let me drive it around NCM West — only then would I be able to tell you.

Since doing that is expensive and often impractical, most people measure automotive speed the old-fashioned way: they read Car and Driver. But that still doesn’t settle the issue: what is the proper yardstick of automotive pace?

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By on September 21, 2017

1980 Cadillac Coupe deVille, Image: Wikimedia

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I’m passionate about obtaining products, goods, and services that are Made In The USA. Which is not to say that I never buy anything from low-cost countries where workplace safety and environmental regulations aren’t up to snuff — to my eternal sorrow, both of my laptops are Chinese, and as many of you have reminded me, the new Silverado LTZ in my driveway was Hecho en Mexico — but in general I will pay a considerable cost in both time and money for an American or at least Western product.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m just doing it to be a total snob. Nowadays, Made In America tends to imply prestige and cost, whether we’re talking SK Tools, Alden boots, or any number of high-end, hand-made bicycles. If you’re walking down the street and everything on or about your person is USA-made, chances are you’ve spent some real money. That’s also true for many industrial goods, certain building supplies, and nearly anything with wings. There’s just one complex product where the American flag logo is attached to a mandatory discount in the minds of most consumers.

No prize for figuring out what that is…

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By on September 15, 2017

2017 Kia Forte Sedan

Is there any lower form of life in the automotive biosphere than the buy-here-pay-here dealership operators?

It’s hard to see them as anything other than rent-seeking scumbags who inflate the market for inexpensive used cars, then turn around and sell those used cars to the poorest and most unfortunate members of our society for prices that are often multiples of the acquisition cost. There is literally no ethical reason for them to exist; most of the time the “down payment” charged by these dealers is more or less the true value of the car. Everything that comes afterwards is just tasty cake topping — and if the working mother or fixed-income older person buying from them misses the very last weekly payment, they can repossess the car and sell it all over again on the same ridiculous terms.

In a world without buy-here-pay-here dealers, the transaction prices of low-cost cars would eventually settle to the point where they could be bought for the “down payments” being handed over today. In fact, I’ve heard BHPH operators brag about making money on the down payment alone. The difference between one of these people and the victims of their operations, of course, is that the former has access to capital and an entry into the protected world of auto auctions.

You’ll often hear these dealers tell stories about how they “help their community.” The members of the community, of course, know better. They can see the BHPH dealers living high on the hog many miles away from the low-income areas in which the lots are deliberately placed right next to liquor stores and lottery ticket providers. So it’s no wonder they feel no sense of loyalty to their “dealers” and will often make the cars disappear without further payment if they can. To combat this, the BHPH people will often have remotely-operated ignition blocks installed into their vehicles. If you don’t make the payment, or if the dealer fails to record the payment correctly, your car is shut off — regardless of where you are or what you need to do with the car next. If you don’t deal with the bottom feeders of the auto biz, you’ve probably never seen one.

That might be about to change.

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