This will likely come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who get your news through glass bottles tossed into the ocean and carried by persistent currents to the remote island on which you’ve been stranded by the crash of your FedEx plane, but Volkswagen is in a little bit of trouble […]
Posts By: Jack Baruth
The autonomous vehicle is coming. Everybody says so. Or at least everybody who is paid to be optimistic about the fascist-corporate future of the Western World says so. Autonomous vehicles are already so safe that the only risks come from the imperfect humans surrounding them. The Times regularly fawns over the autonomous vehicle in the same vaguely insincere, Backpfeifengesicht-smirking way it concern-trolls about suicide-by-firearm. The problem, you see, is with all the people out there. They’re too stupid to drive a car or handle a gun and the only solution is for their betters in the $100M Manhattan condos and too-precious San-Fran Nob Hill homes to keep them dosed with soma and distracted with Centrifugal Bumblepuppy during the two and a half hours a day they’re not supposed to be either working in their ping-pong-table-equipped offices or sound asleep.
I’ve spent much of the past week reading about the near-perfect safety of the autonomous roadways of the future. As fate would have it, I spent much of the week before that driving a few hundred miles’ worth of fast back roads in an assortment of very fast sports cars. After spending some time considering what I’ve read and what I’ve been doing in a sort of holistic fashion, I’ve come to believe that the safety of autonomous vehicles, like many other technical and social issues in the United States, comes down to the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse.
In 1996, Ford sold about 28,000 Broncos. This was the same year the Explorer finally cracked 400,000 units, the vast majority of them XLT trim or above, and each one carrying a healthy markup over the Rangers from which they were unashamedly derived.
The Ford dealership where Rodney and I worked sixty-five hours a week to earn thirty grand a year stocked at least four Medium Willow Green Explorers with the XLT 945A Popular Equipment Package (PEP 945A) at all times and sometimes even a Medium Willow Green Explorer XLT with the lowbrow, cloth-seat PEP 941A, but we did not, I repeat, we did not stock the Bronco. In fact, during my year at the dealership, I only saw two brand-new Broncos come on the lot.
There was a reason for that.
This past Sunday night, I wandered over to my local movie theater to catch Black Mass. Although I’m suffering from a bit of Joel-Edgerton-related-ennui lately and I never really got over the idea of Hey, that’s Johnny Depp in makeup, I had to admit that overall, it was a tightly plotted and thoroughly entertaining film. More importantly, it had an absolutely killer lineup of Malaise-era automobiles, including an utterly stunning ’78 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight with a white leather interior. In fact, until the moment that a 1980 Citation makes an unexpected and rather violent appearance on the scene, it’s nothing but wall-to-wall Seventies sedans. Just the way I like it.
I remember that as a child my grandparents complained about the squared-off, generic appearance of pretty much everything for sale in the post-Nixon era. I can sympathize a bit because although every car sold in the Fifties also looked just like every other car for sale, the general template of the Bel Air/Fairlane/et al was appealing and colorful and optimistic. But even if you don’t care for the ’74 Malibu Classic or the ’79 Granada, at least they had proportions that emphasized width over height. The worst of them had a certain dignity.
Not so with today’s rolling toaster ovens. We’re rapidly approaching the era where every single car for sale will be some variant on the almighty CR-V. The latest sales data from Porsche and MINI simply hammer that home, with a uniquely depressing twist.
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” It’s an old idea, but one that has increasing relevance in an era where automation is likely to permanently tilt the balance between capital and labor well off the scale. When all the jobs are done by robots, and the robots are owned by a small group of people, and there’s no way to earn enough money through labor to buy robot capital of your own, then won’t we have entered a stasis of sorts in society? And won’t the bolder thinkers among us then propose that the spoils of the robot labor be divided equally? And won’t they have a bit of a point?
There’s also the idea that if you have something that you don’t need, and someone else needs something that they don’t have, and the “something” in question is the same thing, that the reasonable thing to do is to hand that thing that you don’t need over to the someone who needs it. This was the argument I used in 1987 when my brother, known to all and sundry as “Bark M”, found himself in possession of a set of new Z-Mags thanks to our parents liking him best. He didn’t need another set of wheels, but I’d just broken my back wheel riding off a loading dock for no reason at all, so I requisitioned his Z-Mags for my own use. This was made easier by the fact that I was fifteen years old and he was nine. That’s another lesson: equitable redistribution usually requires unreasonable force.
So what does this have to do with the Nissan Maxima, recently summarized in these electronic pages?
It’s the kind of thing that could only happen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Or maybe it’s the kind of thing that could happen anywhere but which is most likely to happen in the ABQ: a bus driver rams a line of cars because he’s distracted. One of the victims of the crash sues the city, claiming that the driver was OMG DISTRACTED BY HIS CELLPHONE THE MOST EVIL DEVICE OF ALL TIME, THE TOUCHING OF WHICH WHILE OPERATING A MOTOR VEHICLE ALWAYS LEADS TO FATALITIES.
Well, distracted driving was the cause of this crash. But the distraction had nothing to do with texting.
A couple of months ago, our own Mark Stevenson drove the eighth-generation Maxima. He was neither particularly enthusiastic nor needlessly cruel when discussing Nissan’s big sedan. I have yet to drive the Max myself so I have, as of yet, no opinion. However, I have driven all of the previous cars at one point or another between 1988 and 2013. I also have something to say about the Maxima’s true relevance to Nissan, and I’ll be saying that in my next “No Fixed Abode” column. As a warmup for that, then, I thought I’d reacquaint you, and myself, with the history of the Maxima. And since this is the Internet, we might as well rank them, right?
As I’m sure most of you know, the most important movie release of the summer — Turbo Kid — appeared in a very limited selection of theaters two weeks ago. Here in sunny Columbus, Ohio, the sole place to see it is down on the Ohio State campus. This past weekend, therefore, I headed down for a late-night show of just the second film in history to use “Thunder In Your Heart” as the main theme.
Upon my arrival, I was greeted by the newest fad sweeping American campuses — LEED-certified parking. And it was there that, thanks to my hasty reading of a spreadsheet, I broke the law.
In the end, they caught him, sitting on his bike, near a Billy Joel concert that he was probably listening to ironically, identifiable by his ridiculous handlebar mustache. And now the (grand) jury is in on Ian Hespelt: three felony charges and associated misdemeanors. So what did he do? Only this: he rode the wrong way in traffic with a group of cyclists, falsified an impact with a Zipcar being driven legally by a woman of indeterminate age but definitely diminutive size, attempted to hold her against her will with the assistance of other cyclists, then assaulted her with a U-lock as she drove away.
As a cyclist who has been struck five times by vehicles, once hard enough to snap my neck and leg and require the replacement of every red blood cell in my body, I have long struggled to understand the behavior of “Critical Mass” activists, even as I have nodded in sympathy at their frustration with “cagers” who often feel empowered to menace or attack cyclists simply for existing in their vicinity. I consider the car/bike dynamic in American society to be a massive indictment of human nature; given the advantage of safety and security over the two-wheelers around them, the average driver reacts by turning into a cross between the Emperor Commodus as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix and Judge Dredd.
Oh well. Let’s watch the video, and then I’ll tell you the reason that my favorite blogger would give you for this mook’s behavior.
So. They finally did it, didn’t they?
Porsche followed the lead of Ferrari (with either the California T or 208GTS, depending on your awareness of history) and Ford (with the Fiesta EcoBoost, of course) by making the entry-level 911 a small-displacement turbo. It had to happen, because in its successful quest to become primarily a manufacturer of unibody “trucks” Porsche became too large to reasonably plead an indulgence, er, exemption from Europe’s state religion of carbon-emissions laws. By the way, the next time you’re reading about the sale of indulgences and all of the other ridiculous behavior practiced by Christian Europe six hundred years ago and you’re feeling very smug about living in era where reason holds sway over craven superstition, take a nice long look at this and tell me how much difference you truly see between now and the era of Leo X.
Will Porsche’s switch to smaller, force-fed engines counterbalance even an hour of one region of China’s use of coal for power? It’s best not to think too much about that. Could Porsche accomplish a similar amount of carbon-production reduction by changing the engines in the Macan and Cayenne, perhaps giving them all ludicrous-pressure four bangers like the one in the AMG CLA 45 and therefore leaving the naturally-aspirated sports cars alone? We really don’t want to think about that. It would be like a husband wondering why his wife comes to bed in curlers but insists on a manicure before his brother stops by for dinner. Could it be that he’s no longer the most important member of the family?
This is not a train that we, the occasional Porsche buyers of America, can stop. And it especially is not a train that you, the person from the Internet who has never bought a Porsche but plans on picking up a Carrera G50 some time in the next ten years if the prices come back down, can stop. All we can do is look back at a few great Porsche Turbos and Monday-morning quarterback Porsche’s new product line.
Let’s do that, shall we?