George Sarant

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Not so long ago one could routinely observe several vehicles pulled over on the side of a highway due to mechanical breakdown. Today that is a rare site. These days there are very few bad cars on the the road. This unheralded improvement in quality has been overshadowed by anticipated changes, one reasonable, and the other less so.

There is a general consensus that the cars of the near future will be electric-powered and self-driving. Only one of these predictions, the electric car, is likely to be realized as anticipated. But this is hardly a breakthrough in transportation, and the supposed economic and environmental benefits are not very clear. Since something has to generate the electricity to power these vehicles it means that a substantial amount of energy is still being expended in some way, if indirectly, and the benefit clearly depends on how the electricity is being produced.

There is still nothing as efficient and reliable as the internal combustion engine, and that is the reason why most autos still run on gasoline. If that were not the case everyone would be driving electric cars now. But oil is still plentiful an cheap and without massive government subsidies and pressure electric cars would still not be viable.

But this does entail a paradigm shift. Now you fill your tank as needed based on your own choice. When electric cars predominate, the production of energy will be offloaded, centralized, and outside of our control. Nevertheless there are other advantages to electric vehicles, notably in terms of emissions, as long as the alternative energy production is significantly cleaner, which is by no means certain. Furthermore if there were to be massive automotive electrification, and it were to become the predominant method for powering cars, the cost of gasoline would tumble as a result due to reduced demand, which means that petroleum would be an even greater bargain than it is now.

The term self-driving car is an oxymoron based on the Greek and Latin roots of automobile, which already means self-driving. On that basis if driverless cars were to become ubiquitous, logically self-driving cars would be those still operated by humans. However, I don’t think this is ever going to happen everywhere. It certainly will happen in older, denser large cities, where there would be pronounced efficiencies in only using a car when needed. But while these urban dwellers might not need to own a car, most everyone else still does.

The implications of driverless cars don’t seem to have been fully thought out, due to an almost blind faith in the superiority of technology. But there are abilities that humans possess that machines are unlikely to ever have. For example, experienced drivers have an extra sense, almost an instinct as to what the surrounding drivers are likely to do. They can anticipate how others will move with amazing accuracy. They can intuit what another drivers intentions are. Think of driving on a highway alongside a car to your right, which hasn’t yet signaled or doesn’t bother to, yet, somehow you know they intend to pass in front of you. Or the way you know that the car in front of you is likely to make a left turn before they even turn on their signal.

If we did not have this sense there would be far more accidents than there are. It is like anything we do well without really thinking about it, having subconsciously absorbed the method, like walking. There is just no way a machine can accurately sense the trajectory of cars around them based upon a sense of the other driver. Most cars are equipped with automatic cruise control, but hardly anyone uses it consistently, and it is quite likely that driverless vehicles will suffer the same fate.

Written by georgesarant

March 31, 2018 at 12:51 AM


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The government took over Chrysler, while handing a chunk to the UAW and another piece to Fiat, an Italian maker of crummy little cars no one in this country wants to buy. Secured bondholders included TARP recipients who rolled over, but also others who objected. They were strongly “encouraged” to cooperate by the government and also went along with the deal.

For GM a similar deal was struck. The US and Canadian governments own most of the company, with another big chunk going to the UAW, while bondholders were forced to settle for 10% of the company in lieu of the money they are owed. Stockholders, like myself, get nothing, for what was once a blue chip, dividend-paying stock. Never mind that as owners of the company we had no opportunity to vote on the deal; it was simply forced by the government. Perhaps bankruptcy would have yielded the same results, but an unfettered bankruptcy would not have required billions from the federal government, and would have voided the UAW contracts that largely sank the company in the first place. Instead the government has taken our property and given it to the UAW, which is mainly what the administration was interested in saving.

Meanwhile GM had a viable international business that was making money and which, until recently, maintained its position as the largest auto manufacturer in the world. GM was doing well in China, South America, and Europe. But the US is effectively walking away and dumping GM’s Opel brand on the German government, which in turn is also working on a deal to give it to Fiat.

This all has been handled incredibly badly and truly amounts to Grand Theft Auto. The biggest losers will be the taxpayers, who will also have to subsidize little green cars no one wants to buy and the lot of these companies will just get worse. Meanwhile what about Ford? Ford hasn’t taken any government money and as a result has a large private debt that it is going to have to pay back, unlike the other two, whose bondholders have been screwed. This puts Ford at a competitive disadvantage; punished for being slightly more successful and prudent It simply isn’t fair. . All of this is the kind of thing you might expect from Hugo Chavez , not the US government. These unprecedented actions make a mockery of the rule of law (more on that subsequently). Personally I’m never going to buy a government car, and the next one I buy will most likely be a Ford.

Written by georgesarant

May 29, 2009 at 10:09 PM

Posted in government

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