Category: No Fixed Abode

By on December 19, 2017

[Image: Tesla Motors]

I didn’t learn about the “California No” until I started writing about cars. I was raised on the East Coast, where people have no trouble saying “No” whatsoever. There’s even a song about it. In Ohio, people might be apologetic about it but they will still forthrightly tell you, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to buy from you,” or “I don’t want to meet with you about that.”

That’s not how California works. The so-called “California No” is simply a drawn-out pas de deux in which someone avoids responding directly to your question because they are unwilling to directly refuse or reject you. Supposedly, the California No and the Asian No are related. I couldn’t say. All I can tell you is that I have zero patience for the California No, particularly when it comes from people working in the automotive PR or journalism “spaces,” and I will make attempts to California-No me as uncomfortable as humanly possible, without exception.

To this fine Golden State institution, you can now add the related “California Prohibit,” which is best exemplified by Tesla’s new directive regarding “commercial” use of its Supercharger facilities.

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By on December 13, 2017

“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” Thus spake Tony Montana, anticipating the recent avalanche of sexual harassment claims by a few decades. What ol’ Scarface didn’t bother to tell us is that, for some people, the power is enough. For that lesson, we have O’Brien in Orwell’s 1984, who tells us that the Party seeks power for its own sake. “The object of power is power,” he says.

Those words floated to the front of my mind when I read about Chicago’s new tax on ride-sharing services. The city was already charging 52 cents in tax per ride — plus five bucks per airport pickup — but now it will be charging 67 cents per ride. Starting in 2019, that total will increase to 72 cents.

What could the city do with that extra 15 cents? It’s already scheduled to receive more than 70 million dollars in ride-sharing taxes. What could the justification possibly be for upping the ante? And which of the Chicago machine’s many, many incompetently-operated programs could possibly have the moral right to receive this unexpected bounty?

If you know Chicago, you know the answer. But even if you don’t know Chicago, chances are that you can make an educated guess.
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By on December 5, 2017

2019 Lamborghini Urus

Back in the spring of 2012, I penned a sort of existential whine about the absolutely unnecessary idea of a Lamborghini SUV. In the five-and-a-half years since then, it’s often looked like the “Urus” would be canceled or at least shelved indefinitely — and why not? Under the protective umbrella of VW Group, Lamborghini had absolutely no need to balance the books with a Me-Too Iguana Mommytruck.

Even more importantly, the company’s core product has become absolutely first-rate. If you haven’t driven a Huracan, you owe it to yourself to at least try three rental laps in Las Vegas or elsewhere. The Huracan Performante is, quite possibly, the most exciting and emotionally involving exotic car since the demise of the Ferrari 458 Speciale, while the Aventador S neatly balances the demands of outrageousness and everyday usability.

If you’d put a Urus in showrooms next to the tired-looking-from-Day-2 Gallardo and just-a-bit-plain Murcielago, there might have been a bit of sad synergy across the product lines. Maybe. Half a decade ago, Lamborghini wasn’t second fiddle to Ferrari so much as it was the weekday shift janitor at the symphony. But now it’s Ferrari that struggles with issues of public perception and dealer gouging and unfocused product offerings while the German-Italians from Sant’Agata keep raising the bar to stratospheric levels.

The Urus will be an exception to this new tradition of excellence. It’s a deeply compromised product, a sort of mish-mash between the Audi S8 and VW Tiguan and God knows what else. Its primary competition in the marketplace will surely be the related-under-the-skin Bentley Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne, two vehicles that I suspect are made deliberately gormless for the same reason the so-called “419 scams” are so obviously fraudulent — to weed out the cognoscenti and ensure that only the least discerning customers make it through the purchase experience. It’s not good news for anybody except my colleagues at the buff books, who will have a chance to escape the winter blahs with a trip to Italy. As a genuine fan of the Lamborghini brand and lineup, however, I can’t say that I am anything other than disappointed at Lamborghini’s decision to develop and sell this product.

Which raises, for me at least, a question: How can I continue to respect Lamborghini in a world where the Urus is providing the bulk of the sales volume? The answer is simple.

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By on November 28, 2017

I don’t know who coined the term — I suspect it was Car and Driver, which was then at an all-time peak of editorial excellence — but this is probably one of those cases where success has many fathers, and the child in this case was the phrase “idiot light.”

Let’s say that you were a new-car buyer in 1977. The vast majority of the cars you saw in a dealership would have just two gauges: speedometer and fuel level. Any other information was conveyed in binary fashion by a set of light-up warnings. The typical Seventies American car would have TEMP (for overheating), OIL (for lack of oil pressure), ALT (alternator/battery), and BRAKE (for low brake fluid), but some models had additional lights for low coolant and other functions.

The self-appointed automotive cognoscenti were very contemptuous of these lights, because they didn’t convey much information and they usually didn’t convey it until things had gotten drastic. Why not have a temperature gauge to let you know that your car was getting hot on the way up the Grapevine? Or an oil-pressure gauge, to give you a general idea of your engine health? Why couldn’t the driver be trusted to know the real information and to act accordingly? Read More >

By on November 21, 2017

It’s one of the great scenes in modern cinema: Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness and Sean Connery as Malone, the beat cop who requires no proof of Eliot’s claim to be a Treasury Agent because, “Who would claim to be that, who was not?”

Yet there are people who falsely claim to be police, for various and nefarious purposes ranging from to getting a discount on lunch to raping 11 women. This kind of offense is punished with all possible severity, and for the most understandable of reasons: a society where we cannot easily recognize police is a society where enforcement of the law will become increasingly dangerous for all parties involved.

Then you have the crowd that doesn’t want to actually impersonate a cop; rather, they simply want to be briefly “mistaken” for a cop on the freeway, often for no reason other than the petty narcissism of believing they are frightening or impressing fellow motorists. As you’d expect, these people gravitate towards used police cars, which they often retrofit to vaguely resemble undercover or unmarked units. It’s a common enough practice that the Internet has coined a word to define the practitioner: “Wacker.” Read More >

By on November 16, 2017

There’s a Land Rover clone — or is it a Land Cruiser clone — coming our way. Built in a low-cost country where the principle of “just good enough” has held sway ever since the Communists took over, it’s cheap, rugged-looking, and certain to feed aggressively on the bottom of the SUV-buyer ocean. You might not like the idea of supporting an oppressive regime, and you might not like the idea of trusting your life to something that was slapped together in a hurry, but other people aren’t as smart and discerning as you are and they will ensure that the new product is a roaring success.

Oh, I’m not talking about the Trumpchi. I’m reading automotive history circa 2003. What, you don’t remember the CrossLander? Well, my friend, you are in for a treat — one that has a surprising amount of relevance to China’s entry to the American auto market.

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By on November 9, 2017

Las Vegas self-driving shuttle, Image: AAA

Did you hear the one about the autonomous shuttle in Las Vegas? It ran for two hours before it was in a crash.

Did you hear the clarifying detail? The crash was not the shuttle’s fault and the other driver was cited.

Did you get the underlying message of all this? The hybrid model of autonomous vehicles sharing the road with human drivers is doomed to failure.

The only question is this: How much damage will have to be caused, and how many lives will be lost, before we accept that?

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By on October 26, 2017

2017 Acura NSX, Image: Acura

Psst… Have I got a deal for you! There’s a low-profile $30,000 factory incentive out there on a really great mid-engined supercar. You could be looking at just $1,500 a month on a lease, which is about what you’d pay to buy a new Corvette Grand Sport over five years. Or you might get a car with a $165k sticker for just $122,000. Are you FREAKING OUT right now? Or are you waiting for me to tell you which one?

Well, let’s see… It’s not the Ford GT, because those are sold out. It’s not the Ferrari 488GTB, which is on a waiting list and subject to $100k worth of additional dealer markup. It’s not the Lamborghini Huracan, used examples of which are fetching close to MSRP. It’s not even the Audi R8, which has some nice lease programs at the moment but which still generally sells for sticker or close to it.

You know what I’m going to tell you, of course. You know it’s the Acura NSX. From day one it’s been a tough sell and, while I’d like to think that the 2017 Road & Track Performance Car Of The Year accolade helped the showroom traffic a bit, I’d be naive to think that it was enough to move the needle too far. Starting next year, NSXes will be special order only. If you want a car out of dealer stock, now’s the time to do it and Honda will throw $30k worth of cash on the frunk to make it happen.

Maybe it’s time to ask why this state of affairs came to pass — but I bet you already know that, too.

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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 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 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 August 31, 2017

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe - Image: Honda

As I write this, one of my favorite race tracks is entirely underwater. Many years ago, I wrote for a Houston-based automotive website and we used MSR Houston as a testing facility. It was also the track where I nervously watched my little brother start his first wheel-to-wheel race back in 2013. Now the start/finish flag station looks out over a mirror-finished hurricane lake stretching to the horizon.

Every time something like this happens in the United States it tends to get people talking about climate change and what can be done to slow or halt the process. Predictably, the privately-owned automobile comes in for a fair share — maybe more than a fair share — of criticism as a result. I couldn’t tell you if the internal combustion engine actually makes a difference to the climate, and I suspect the facts are less clear than they are made out to be, but it doesn’t matter. Enough people believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW) for public policy to be affected as a result. Nobody in Salem was really a witch but that little fact didn’t save anybody from being burned at the stake. The same is true when it comes to climate change and the automobile.

Sports cars and performance cars are a favorite target of the save-the-earth crowd, of course, but I think I can make the argument that increased availability of fast cars in general — and “hot hatches” in particular — can actually make a positive impact on carbon-dioxide emissions. Are you skeptical? Read on, my friend.

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By on August 10, 2017

Jeep Trackhawk

One of my favorite writers once ruefully noted that “in the end, whether you are loved or not is determined by the shape of your skull.” To which I would add: and the way you know you are loved is whether or not somebody will take out their wallet for you.

Being a wife usually pays better than being a mistress, which pays better than being a girlfriend, which pays better than being a Tinder date. Not that money is precisely equal to love — but in most cases cash speaks louder than poetry.

For that reason, it’s fascinating to use pricing as a window into human desire. With most consumer goods, of course, there are two prices. There’s the MSRP, which is fantasy, and there’s the “street price,” or actual transaction price, which is reality. The sticker price of a new Impala or Taurus or Sonata is considerably above the price that the vast majority of people are willing to pay, but on a 458 Speciale it’s a screaming bargain. These are exceptions that prove a surprising but durable rule: most of the time, automakers price their cars remarkably close to market reality. We take this for granted when in reality it’s proof of just how much intelligence and effort goes into product planning. Consider the fact that Rolex is widely acknowledged as having the lowest discount rate of any major watch brand, yet it’s usually possible to get between 10 and 20 percent off sticker at most dealers. That same amount of pricing flexibility gets Bloomberg in a tizzy when it’s applied to mass-market cars.

Assuming, therefore, that we can usually rely on manufacturer pricing as a rough yardstick for consumer desire, it’s absolutely fascinating to see how Fiat Chrysler Automobiles positions its most powerful sedans and SUVs. It is also very depressing for anybody who believes in an automotive future that contains anything but jacked-up Me-Too-Iguana-Boxes.

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By on August 4, 2017

2007 2008 Nissan Altima (public domain)

A few years ago I heard the phrase “future time orientation” and in that moment the scales, as they say, dropped from my eyes. I’d always known the concept but I didn’t realize it had an actual name. Well, it does, and that phrase is “future time orientation.” Put simply, it’s how real the future is to you, and how much thoughts of the future affect your present behavior.

The more I’ve read about future time orientation, the more I realize it is pretty much the defining characteristic of a human being. The more real the future is to you, the harder you will work, the more you will save, and the more you will moderate your behavior. Lack of future time orientation damn near qualifies as a mental illness and it turns you into a loser in any case. I can speak personally about that.

When my grandfather was 45 years old, he was just eight years from a fully-funded retirement that would see him driving Cadillacs and enjoying life without reservations until he died well into his nineties. When my father was 45, he had practiced 20 years of fiscal discipline. After twenty further years of fiscal discipline he retired to a plantation where he aimlessly steers a Benz between the gym and the golf course every day.

I, on the other hand, have more than one hundred pairs of dress shoes and I’ve spent enough money on racing to pay off my house three times over. I will have to work until the day I die because every time I’ve had money in my pocket it’s turned into a Porsche or a Kawasaki or a Savile Row suit or a massive house party with free liquor and steaks for 150 people. I have almost zero future time orientation. The only reason I pay my bills is because I’ve always managed to have a woman in the house to remind me to pay my bills. Otherwise, they wouldn’t get paid and I would just buy a bunch of ZX-10RR Winter Livery Snowflake Editions. Actually, as of this writing I think my son has more money in the bank than I do, and he is eight years old. He will be retired at 54. He can come visit me at the Wal-Mart, where I will be a greeter.

As low as my future time orientation is, however, there are people out there who are even worse. And you can actually identify them from a distance on the freeway.

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By on June 29, 2017

Repair Auto Mechanic Car Automobile Service

How did you celebrate Warren Brown Day? What? You didn’t know about Warren Brown Day? Well, my friend, allow me to fill you in. If you are a subject of the Washington, DC metro area, then June 15th was officially Warren Brown Day for you. The day celebrates Warren Brown’s contributions to automotive journalism. This came as a great surprise to me; as far as I knew, Mr. Brown’s primary contribution to automotive journalism was finding a way to get around the Washington Post‘s policy on accepting luxury travel.

It occurred to me that maybe the city was honoring a different Warren Brown, so I went back and checked the original article in American Journalism Review to make sure that I had the right guy. Once I started re-reading it, however, I quickly forgot all about Mr. Brown and his Italian vacation, because the most important story Frank Greves tells in his overview of automotive journalism has nothing whatsoever to do with the perks of the business.

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