October 12, 2017

EVs, 2017 and ahead

"Have you seen the Mercedes EQ?" says CelloDad.

I look up the Mercedes EQ.

"But - it's a concept car."

"Yes. Isn't it nice?"

Call me overly pragmatic and totally curmudgeonly (I won't deny either accusation) - I just don't have time to fawn over something that may never hit the road. Until it's actually for sale, at a dealer who can make you sign on the dotted line, it doesn't count.

We've been having pow-wows about what to do with our diesel Golf, now that Volkswagen is offering, not only a buyback option, but also a fix-it option where they put in the correct software plus hardware so that the car complies with EURO5 standards, same as Golfs in Europe.

While we're making up our minds, we're looking into EVs - that would fill my requirement that our next car not run on fossil fuels, and CelloDad's requirement that it not have a manually operated gear box.

September 11, 2017

Measuring Loss in Terms of Human Suffering, Not Dollars

In the aftermath of hurricanes, typhoons, wildfires and other disasters, the damage is assessed and tallied and reported. It usually goes something like this:

" It is possible that economic damage from Harvey will exceed the inflation-adjusted $160bn cost of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Noaa experts told the Guardian."

That's from an article titled "Hurricane Harvey is a billion-dollar disaster - America's 10th in 2017". It's a good article, pointing out how in an age of climate-boosted "natural" disasters, we need to increase, not slash, funding of NOAA and other agencies that do forecasting, so we can prepare for these disasters. It points out, rightly, that we need to re-think FEMA, the Federal Emergecy Management Agency. In short, it's all about who needs to pay for what.

Which misses a large part of what is lost in a hurricane.

To a family, losing your house is a major disaster; the dollar value of the house is a big part of that, but the main thing is that you lost the roof over your head and you need another place to keep your family safe and dry and, hopefully, reasonably comfortable.

Losing your job, because the company you worked for is either on hiatus, or moving elsewhere, hurts. Losing treasured photos and memorabilia in a flood hurts in a different way. Losing your food and water supply, albeit temporarily, is deeply disturbing. Losing your friends and neighbours because they decide to move out of state is tough.

The pile of losses can be devastating - and most of it is not to do with money.

September 7, 2017

Extreme weather and the migration of drivers' licences

The iconic photos of the aftermath of hurricane Harvey show people wading through muddy waters - and cars submerged in muddy waters. Lots and lots of cars, this being not only America, but Houston, where the necessity for a car is second only to the necessity for drinking water.

Photo by Djielle

Nearly a million cars may have been ruined by Harvey, and rental car companies and dealers are scrambling to restock vehicles in the Houston area as the waters recede.

Which gave me this idea.

There was a massive exodus from New Orleans when hurricane Katrina hit it in August 2005. Only a third of evacuees returned to the homes they were living in before the hurricane. A large fraction never came back to the city at all.

What happened to those people, and where are they, a year after the hurricane, five years, ten?

June 18, 2017

Outside The Box - the one with four wheels

In the early days, every car was a convertible.

Seriously. Just look at this early car ad from 1898, from the Winton Motor Carriage Company, one of the first manufacturers that sold cars in the United States.

The name says it all: they didn't make cars: they made carriages. They simply replaced the horse with a "hydrocarbon motor", promising "no odor". That last bit makes sense if you remember that, while you have to sit behind the horse and get to experience whatever comes out of it, the motor exhaust can be directed behind you where it brings pollution to everybody else on the road.

June 2, 2017

Climate Change and the Ministry of Truth

Unsurprisingly, the US has pulled out of the Paris agreement. Unsurprisingly, the world's news media is awash with the news, reactions, analyses. The entire online front page of the Washington Post is taken up by this.

I went to check out Fox News.

What climate change? What Paris agreement?

May 24, 2017

Is an EV best for the climate? - "It Depends"

The world is hopping on the electric bandwagon. Cities like them because they don't belch soot and other pollution on the road. Owners like them for that sweet kick in the lower lumbar region - electric motors have even more torque than turbodiesels. The climate conscious like them because once the source of electricity is also weaned off fossil fuels, their carbon emissions will be very low.

Right now, though, we are in a transition period: while renewable energy is starting to make inroads, the fact is that it still makes up a small fraction (single digit percentages) of the world's electricity supply. And how clean your electricity is depends largely on where you live.

The total carbon emissions from your car must also include the emissions from its manufacture. Apples-to-apples comparisons are very hard to come by, but there is one car that has three different incarnations: the Renault Fluence was, for a time, available in gasoline, diesel and electric versions (no hybrid). So the cars are identical except for their engines and drivetrains. Renault has done a lifecycle analysis for the three versions (PDF file).

Manufacturing the electric car makes more carbon emissions than the gas or diesel versions - this is often pointed out by dectractors of EVs. However, over the lifetime of the car (defined in the study as 150,000 km or roughly 100,000 miles), the electric car has significantly lower emissions than either of the fossil fuel propelled ones.

May 21, 2017

DYI Car Ad

I have stopped covering car ads released at the Super Bowl because they have become boring. They're not inspiring. They're not very beautiful. And most damningly, they are not funny.

But here is one that fills all of those requirements: A visual effects artist has made a video to help sell his car, a Suzuki Vitara. It's roaringly funny. It's a beautiful send-off of every "serious" car ad you've ever seen. It has been viewed more than 5 million times in five weeks.

And while it may not inspire you to rush out an buy a Vitara of your own, it may just inspire a new generation to get into computer graphics and visual effects.


"#BuyMyVitara"; also viewable on YouTube.



You may also like:
1. Can you trust MPG specs?
2. Why VW diesel fix comes later to American drivers
3. How much horsepower do you need?


February 27, 2017

Ocean Microplastic and Your Car

It used to be that the best facial scrub is a home-made facial scrub with ingredients that come out of your pantry, like sugar, sunflower or coconut oil, and some antiseptic like a drop or two of tea tree oil, lavender oil or that "Thieves" blend: everything biodegradable, nothing toxic.

Photo by Inkwina

That way, when you flush it down the sink, you don't contribute to ocean plastic which is so bad for marine life (and the people who like to eat it), because your nice home-made facial scrub doesn't contain plastic microbeads.

But now you can forget about all that. Because industrial facial scrub containing microbeads are now banned, thank goodness. So now you only need to be mindful of glitter in your makeup, and not driving too much.

Wait. What's driving got to do with microplastic?

February 23, 2017

Fuel efficiency rules, hated by carmakers, are the car owner's friend

Now that the White House has turned into a stable of climate change deniers, those who facilitate climate change are trying to grab hold of their oily and sooty coat tails.

The new head of the EPA, who has famously sued the EPA numerous times at the behest of fossil fuel interests, has barely had time to settle into his new office before a chorus of carmakers rises up asking him to get rid of the fuel efficiency standards known as CAFE.

But CAFE is our friend.

Under CAFE rules, American drivers of gasoline cars can count on saving $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel between 2011 and 2025, the lifetime of the rule. On the other hand, the auto industry would have lost $ 0.2 trillion because they are forced to sell you the car that better fits your needs rather than the oversized one they want you to buy that nets them higher profits.

Carmakers don't care that you and I can save $1.7 trillion dollars. They do care that they can boost their profits by any amount. So they will do their best to get rid of the CAFE standards. And it's up to us to uphold those standards: for 1.7 trillion reasons plus the big one: the round, green and blue one that we all call home.

Photo by Mark Buckawicki

This is why I say we're being ripped off at the pump.

February 19, 2017

Vision Zero

Have you operated your wrecking ball lately?

What, you think you have nothing to do with wrecking balls? Let me elaborate: A wrecking ball is a steel object that uses the kinetic energy of its motion to inflict damage. It can weigh anywhere between 1,000 and 12,000 pounds. And it has the capability to make entire buildings come down.

Okay, so mine happens to have four wheels, and I don't operate it by swinging it from a crane: instead, I send it hurtling down the road. With myself inside. Often with a child or two on its back seat. Although it's on the whole a very useful thing, my car does embody the damage potential of a medium-sized wrecking ball.

And there's no damage like loss of life. In the United States, more than 40,000 people died in traffic 2016. It is an astonishing number, and even larger than the annual deaths caused by guns, which itself is tragically high.

January 15, 2017


Innovative design is, by definition, unprecedented. Think of the iPhone. Think of Uber. Think of the Kübelwagen.

The what?

Photo Bundesarchiv, N 1603 Bild-192 / Horst Grund / CC-BY-SA 3.0