July 26, 2014

Sweet BlueMotion

The Aerosmith song starts "You talk about things and nobody cares / You're wearing out things that nobody wears".

Well, have I been driving a thing that nobody drives. Nobody in the US, that is. I'll talk about it, too, and I don't care that you don't care. But you should care.

I've been driving a rented Golf for a week. Except that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car (more on that in another post), it's just the same as our Golf. Same sturdy seating, not overstuffed. Same ample trunk that easily fits our luggage with room to spare. Same easy handling.

However, under the hood it's a little different: it has the 1.6L diesel engine that is not for sale in the US (where the smallest engine is the 2.0L TDI). This rental car was augmented by Volkswagen's "BlueMotion" suite of technologies that boost the fuel efficiency.

I confess freely: I was lousy at hypermiling this car.

July 24, 2014

The Difference Between Owning a Car and Being Mobile

It makes the news when a city like Helsinki announces that, by 2025, its suite of mobility-on-demand solutions will be so comprehensive that it will be quite pointless to own a car. But in fact, the trend in many large cities has been going that way for a long time.

Compare these two pictures of Oxford Street, London's shopping paradise, the first taken in the up-beat 1950s, the second this summer.

Oxford Street, 1955. Photo by Ben Brooksbank

In the days just after the War, Oxford Street was already lined with shops. There was enough space for three cars abreast in each direction. The sidewalk was fairly generous. Private automobiles shared the road with the famed double-decker buses, and the iconic London taxis, all black.

July 6, 2014

The Difference Between a Road and a Means of Transport

A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times sighs, "America’s infrastructure is now so wretched that, in some areas, the only people who drive straight are the drunks. Anyone who is sober swerves to avoid potholes."

So yes, the Federal excise tax on gasoline, which helps pay for highway maintenance, has been stuck at 18 cents a gallon since 1993, quite unaffected by inflation or the slowly decreasing use of gasoline. And states and local authorities are broke.

Photo by Sascha Pöschl.

But the way road infrastructure is built and managed could also be a lot better. My dad, a retired civil engineer, always says that construction is far easier than maintenance. He especially sighs at "vanity" projects in developing countries, where developed-world roads are built, complete with beautiful overpasses and glorious bridges, but where maintenance funds are not assigned, so that the steel and concrete glory starts to crumble faster than you can say "repair funds".

July 2, 2014

Up! Holland up!

Some time in the course of the 2010 World Cup, I looked out of the window of my dad's flat in Holland and spotted, right on the parking lot, a diminuitive Volkwagen up!, all decked out in orange and with the works "up! Holland up!" painted down its sides.

I grinned. It was a brilliant marriage of the name of Volkswagen's tiniest car, the up!, and the fighting song of one of Europe's smallest nations. Very much tongue in cheek, it goes, "Hup, Holland, hup! Don't put the lion in its undershirt." It is sung in the key of good nature, by supporters of Dutch teams at international sporting events.