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Life is backwards… Heck, not just backwards, ass backwards! They treat you nice at first, a good thing, ’cause you’re pretty much helpless. But through your teens they turn you loose, which is sometimes a bit early and a bad thing. But the main thing is you’re expected to become independent, which means you’re allowed to drive, provided you keep the speed down to the limit +5, no burnouts, and all the wheels down all the time. And you’re expected to pay for the vehicle, the fuel, and insurance and everything else too. Thus most of this adult “freedom” tend to be driving back and forth to work. “Freedom” becomes a battle for survival, fixing the car in the snow and dark so you can go back to work tomorrow to make a pittance to buy more gas and parts.

Around 50, the power shifts… You’re vested for a pension and if you’re lucky you can keep your health insurance for around $100 a month. You slowly realize that you could tell the boss off, turn in your resignation, and laugh your ass off as you head out the door… And you’d have the last laugh. Then all that stuff you worked your butt off for they offer to give you- Social Security at 62, Medicare at 65, and they damn near force that social security on you at 70! Now I’m not complaining, but why couldn’t we have healthcare when we’re sick and a guaranteed income when we’re unemployed before we’re old… I mean, young people need help sometimes too.

So I’m doing my best to adapt to the new reality of turning 70 and with social security and pension making more money that I’ve ever earned, and that’s before I even count investment income. I toyed with ordering a new “Vette, still a bargain as GM is holding the base price to a bit over $60K… But couldn’t find a roof rack for a “Vette that would carry my 16 foot canoe. So back to Plan B, which is VW Group’s Plan A for us aging VW drivers, buy an Audi. Despite VW’s whining that we diesel drivers are too rich for VWs and have been depriving them of their just(?) Audi and Porsche profit margins for decades, three Audi dealers totally and utterly failed to put me in the driver’s seat of an Audi. Hell, their inventory is so screwed they can’t even find their Audis!

So I guess I’m not about to achieve at least the mobile appearance of a “rich bitch”. Maybe I can dump some surplus income on a Transit Connect van for winter trips south with a motorcycle, but you can buy a loaded one for $30k.. So guess I’ll have to keep adopting more old motorcycles and lavish them with tires, batteries, expensive oil, and unobtainium parts…

 

 

Early in this pandemic induced recession I did some bargain shopping for a new car even though I’ve only got 39,000 miles on the 2015… I tend to “lay in the weeds” and pounce when the prices are down. But instead of the deep discounts I expected, I found “zero percent” finance offers that defied conventional economic wisdom, especially in Ford’s case- They were borrowing billions at 9% so they could offer 0% financing! There’s a reason for that financial insanity, it’s called “mark to market”, and if Ford had dropped prices instead they’d be admitting insolvency, at least on paper. Fact is, those 0% loans for 6 and even 7 years cost Ford 25% to 30% of the vehicles retail price, and even automakers with better bond ratings were taking a 10% or more hit to offer that 0% financing, and to the car buyer it was a 10+% discount…

So for sheets and giggles I applied for those 0% loans from Ford and VW, and was turned down by both. The hilarity of it all is that my finances look a lot better than Fords, and only 3 years ago I paid off a VW loan… But maybe they were pissed because I paid it off before the first payment was due. A few days later Ford sent me the traditional “come in to our finance/intimidation room so we can shake you down for high interest financing, an extended warranty, and a $500 wax job to boot” letter. But the prize goes to VW who sent me the legalese form letter “explaining” there reasons for denying credit… Experian has awarded me a credit rating of 0. I’m gonna frame that letter!

Now if an old white lady who owns a house and a bunch of vehicles free and clear and is probably worth more dead than alive can’t get credit, how the hell will a young minority restaurant owner who needs a delivery van or a landscaper who needs a pickup? They’ll go into the aforementioned tiny finance/intimidation room and get bullied into financing at double digit rates along with the customary overpriced extended warranty and in this case thousand dollar wax job. If the buyer is undocumented they’ll probably pay list price too, under threat of getting turned in to ICE. Hard to believe, but here’s the abstract of a recent study:

“We provide evidence of discrimination in auto lending. Combining credit bureau records with borrower characteristics, we find that Black and Hispanic applicants’ loan approval rates are 1.5 percentage points lower, even controlling for creditworthiness. In aggregate, discrimination crowds out 80,000 minority loans each year. Results are stronger where racial biases are more prevalent and banking competition is lower. Minority borrowers pay 70 basis point higher interest rates, but default less ceteris paribus, consistent with racial bias rather than statistical discrimination. A major anti-discrimination enforcement policy initiated in 2013, but halted in 2018, reduced discrimination in interest rates by nearly 60%.”

And the cite: Butler, Alexander W. and Mayer, Erik J. and Weston, James Peter, Discrimination in the Auto Loan Market (April 10, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3301009 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3301009

Proof positive that minority consumers get just as badly robbed buying a car as they do buying a home. And while big corporations can buy a new van or pickup for around $20,000 without every having to set foot on a showroom floor, never mind being held captive in a finance/intimidation office, minority customers receive smaller discounts and pay higher interest for years, if they can get financed at all. An honest accounting would probably reveal that the gouging of minority buyers in the low margin business of selling cars is probably what’s keeping dealers profitable. And while minority auto workers are such a big chunk of the work force that they could shut down most every american auto factory were they to strike, only about 5% of Ford and GM dealerships are minority owned and the percentages are even worse for the other auto manufacturers.

So on this Juneteeth it’s high time the auto biz gave the minority citizens it couldn’t survive without a fair deal and reparations for past gouging!

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So back around February it became obvious that the Chinese weren’t letting on that they’d lost control of the deadly COVID-19 virus, our ‘Merican government was blissfully ignoring said killer virus, and we sure as heck weren’t ready as the nation’s health care “system” begged for the nation’s DIYers stash of N95 masks. So like good gearheads, we surrendered our N95s and adapted, which given that those of us in the northern latitudes were snowed in anyway, wasn’t much of a sacrifice.

Thus every hair brained “project” and “build” we’ve been fooling ourselves into believing we were going to “get a round to” was dragged to places of honor in our shops and on our benches. Parts were ordered en masse- Harper’s Guzzi reports their biggest parts volume ever, VW Diesel parts supplier ID Parts reported thousand dollar plus parts orders for whole brake and suspension systems on A4 vintage VWs that are over 15 years old, and Max BMW hasn’t had to do any sales lately.

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So how come the Mini ain’t all restored yet and I think I’ve got no more running vehicles than I started winter with? And shouldn’t that Guzzi and flatbed ‘hack be married and sharing the garage with the two other hack outfits?

Well, for a start, I kinda got interrupted- Back in march when we were in panic mode, being a techie I was drafted into a bunch of missions impossible like reverse engineering N95 masks, making face shields with found (around the shop) materials, and hacking realtime traffic counts out of embedded in the road sensors to assess the success of stay at home efforts. I learned a lot- like how fabric makers gagged sewing shops who wanted to make masks (I suspect Gore-Tex is the ultimate mask material), contemplated acquisition of volumes of plexiglas from a closed and bankrupt company by degrees of nefariousness, and convincing state leaders that the county next to me didn’t have citizens flaunting quarantine as measured by cell tower pings, because all those pings were because the county was on a ridge and it’s cell towers served several counties. Ain’t science fun!

DSC_6747But did accomplish a few things- That’s the old TDI on the lift, it being after Memorial Day I figured it was safe to take off the winter tires. Replacing a few brake and suspension parts while it’s up there, whenever the back ordered parts come in. The Golf 7 TDI will be next on the lift for 40,000 mile service and a bash plate. The LS airhead and Guzzi got oil changes and thousand dollar new mufflers for the ST are outa stock, which gave me the perfect excuse to borrow the R100GS’s. Been nibbling away at the Mini restoration- try to loosen fastener which don’t budge,  drench it in penetrating oil, try a couple days later with same results, repeat, give up and apply the power tools! Same with the Ranger rebuild, which has been giving me an education on just how cheap Ford really is…

And did I mention that I tried to buy a new van three times and Ford failed each time? I’ll save that for a future missive…

 

Lick to my article on DailyKos

This study in the Lancet pretty well predicts the now worldwide distribution of the coronavirus from China via international air travel patterns, and the Coronavirus “hot zones” in the U.S. tend to be around the busiest airports for international travel. Could long haul trucking further distribute Coronavirus throughout our country?

If we wanted to design the perfect system to deliver a communicable disease all over a country, we’d probably design something like long haul trucking. A literal sweatshop on 18 wheels, long haul truckers live in their trucks for weeks on end with little access to sanitation. These drivers schedules are dictated by greedy shippers and dictatorial trucking company managers who insist that the drivers keep rolling ‘til they physically can’t anymore- That’s why falling asleep at the wheel is one of the most frequent causes of truck accidents and you’ll see long haul truckers attempting to drive through blizzards. And the poor health of many long haul truckers make them likely to be the first victims of Coronavirus- They’re over 90% male, older and more obese than the average worker, have weakened immune systems from lack of sleep, live in a rolling food desert, and are much more likely to smoke that the average worker.

Every day thousands of truck drivers load up in the shipping centers and also epicenters of the Coronavirus epidemic in america- Seattle, the Bay area, southern California, Chicago, New York, etc…. After days of too little sleep and too many miles between being jammed in tight loading dock waiting rooms and truck stops they’ll deliver their loads and maybe Coronavirus too all over america. They’ll be among the first victims, with little access to health care and doomed by pre-existing conditions. And with a nationwide shortage of truck drivers, there’s no one to replace them and their absence will further delay deliveries of needed food and medical supplies.

It should have happened long ago, but in this deadly disease crisis it’s high time we improved the working conditions (and pay too) of long haul truckers!

Self propelled road vehicles have now been with us for over a century, and by the 1920s had evolved to the point of being useful and even entertaining devices.  That evolution continued through the prosperity filled 1920s as vehicles got faster and more reliable, always a winning combination. But by the 1930s a worldwide depression was the end of many great builders, thought they fought the economic and literal headwinds valiantly with 4 cyclinder motorcycles and V12 and even V16 powered cars. In the 40s the second world war brought production to a standstill and after that manufactures struggled to rebuild or took advantage of the lack of competition. The 50s were the beginning of an automotive awakening but the return to prosperity drove many motorcyclists into the market for cars. The 60s were probably the best decade yet for gearheads, as motorcycling enjoyed a rebirth and even staid Ford went racing off to Europe and beat their best on their own tracks under their rules.

Then came the 70s as Nader inspired bureaucrats supervised designers and engineers and enforced a uniformly low standard of design and performance. Motorcycle sales tanked and 55 MPH speed limits made falling asleep at the wheel a serious threat. Engines wheezed under EPA restrictions while 5 MPH bumpers played hell with polar moments of inertia and trashed some of the greatest sports cars. The 80s weren’t much better as even rays of hope like the mid engined Pontiac Fiero had to be sold to top GM management as an “economy car” to gain their approval.

With the 90s came glimmers of hope- The 55 limit ended and MPG improved as horsepower rose. The 2000s were even better, as improving computer technology made antilock brakes and stability control practical aids to safety AND performance. Turbochargers meant you didn’t need a bulky and thirsty V8 for serious performance. And while the 2010s recession felled a few more automakers, the technology development continued apace.

So here we are in 2020 with hot hatches like the GTI, Civic R, etc. that can turn 14 second quarters that rival the performance of all but the fastest 60s supercars, corner way faster, and brake without fade when requested. And unlike the 60s supercars, they get 20-30 MPG and can haul as much as a small pickup. Move up a notch to a Golf R or Focus RS and you’ll have a car that can match and beat the 60s best on the track yet excel as a daily driver. Same with bikes- The 250/300s offer as much performance as most of us will ever need and for under $10k you can buy some versatile middleweight bikes that will do anything the most expensive bikes will do, except put you on a first name basis with the local BMW or Harley service department.

But the 2020s may be another lost decade- Ford’s already discontinued the Focus, RS and otherwise, in America and VW still hasn’t US emissions certified the Golf R for 2020 and they’re hinting that we’ll be lucky to see any Golfs at all soon. Ford thinks we’ll all trade our hot hatches, wagons, and sedans too on their growing line of SUVs, but 80% of Focus owners are trading their Foci for Hondas, Hyundais, Kias, and everything but a Ford SUV. What Ford is doing is blowing $10,000,000,000 on a tall 4 door electric car they’re calling a Mustang and trying to pass off as an SUV even though it has slightly less ground clearance than a real Mustang. It gets worse… VW has pulled out of all racing involving internal combustion engines while earmarking $50,000,000,000 to design and tool up to build electric cars. That bet is about twice what VW lost on the TDI emissions debacle and several multiples of VW Group’s annual profits.

This major bet on electrics is being made as after a decade on the market, electric cars have taken an all of 2% market share, which may be fortunate as almost every one was sold at a loss. So what happens when these “bet the company” electrification strategies fail… Will VW buy a bankrupt Ford or vice versa? Or will an automaker like Toyota who has wisely avoided betting everything on electrification buy up both for pennies on the dollar? Meanwhile, outside of developing countries,  motorcycling is not aging well as sales to the dwindling pool of riders that can still hold a bike up slow.

Hang on, it’s going to be a boring electric powered ride to bankruptcy…

DSCF4603All of this fits into…

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Snagged the base box on wheels, a big box, and small box at Homer’s on Black Friday for a hundred $$$ last year. Then picked up a small box with all the yellow bins on sale at local “farm” store Bomgaars this year. Then Homer put a big box packed with 3 levels of fitted socket sets this year for $150 and I was tempted, but the poor fit of some of the DeWalt tools I’ve bought at Costco kept my credit card in my wallet, as this box of trinkets wasn’t available in stores. Then Bomgaars offered the same deal at their store only 20 miles away… the jewelry is workmanlike quality so I bought.

Thus I’m cheaply putting together a DIYers dream mobile tool cart- The biggest box at the bottom is getting big stuff like a small jack, air compressor, etc.. I supplemented the new tool box and set with some more wrenches, torx and Allen sockets, etc.. The small top box with all the bins is getting fitted with small parts and supplies- tire patches and plugs, electrical bits, fasteners, etc.. And I’ve still got empty small and big boxes to fill- I figure I can fit most of the essential airhead parts in the big box for tech days, and I can always find more small bits for the small box.

So drop plenty of hints, and if that don’t work just watch for the next sale…

DSC_6397Long time readers (If I’ve got any left) will remember coverage of the Holiday Train going back to the days when CP was the sleepy big railroad where the Maintenance of Way staff tended the trackside grave of a co-worker who fell in the 1800s, the home office even has a museum, and they’d happily haul just one car or a unit train. Then came a chief executive who damn near throttled CP and a series of other railroads, he’ll remain nameless here as he’s passed on to the big model railroad in heaven and his “accomplishments” deserve no recognition. But his theory of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” lives on at too many railroads as they forsake growth and tell there customers when, how much, and for how much they can ship. Suffice to say, “precision Scheduled Railroading” has been a great success… For the trucking industry!

But you can’t keep a good railroad down, and CP Railroad Police are still a friendly bunch and the dispatchers still clear their busy single track mainline along the Mississippi twice daily so the Empire Builder can run on schedule. Couple years back they even sent a locomotive with not a single car of revenue freight to slowly roll by the burial of a child railfan.  And so the Holiday train lives on, though the bean counters no longer power it with the latest locomotive. As always, they pretty much shut the sub down as the Holiday Train passes through with every available Canadian Pacific employee out providing hospitality and assuring a safe trip.

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And while they say the internet has shrunk live performances, the audience was big as ever- Years ago I noted that the Holiday Train seemed to draw a crowd of around 500 whether in a town of 50 or city of 500,000, but this crowd looked to be at least a thousand strong. Many of that thousand brought hefty bags of food donations and Canadian Pacific cut their usual big check to the local food shelf too. So in it’s 21st year the Holiday Train rolls on, better than ever!

Oh, and here’s a link to CP’s new Holiday Train tracker

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Ford vs. Ferrari vs. the Future: the Failed “Mustang” Mach E Intro…

It’s hard to run from your heritage, especially when it’s a great one-

Ford has heritage in spades, starting with Henry who was both a populist who raised wages  and a union hating anti-semite who hung with Hitler for a bit. Ford remains the only automaker I know of with a working farm and two decades after they sold the tractor biz, “Ford tractor” is the 2nd most common branded tractor search on google, second only to “John Deere tractor”. Two thirds of a century after production ended, half of the best selling tractors ever, the Ford N series, are still alive and plowing and mowing and keeping hobby farms running. Over a decade after dim bulb Ford management practically gave the Louisville heavy truck line to Daimler, “Louisvilles” are still on the job all over America.

That’s just the humdrum agricultural and industrial side of the Ford heritage- In the 60s while Ford was becoming a serious maker of big trucks Ford went racing, everywhere. Not content just to humble GM and Mopar on the NASCAR ovals and drag strips of America, Ford went racing round the world. The deck was stacked against Ford, for example in the Monte Carlo rally the lightweight Falcons tied the legendary Mini Cooper S, only to have the Mini beat them on actual scoring via an obscure “Index of Efficiency” that gave the Mini points just for having a smaller engine. On the endurance racing circuit Ford met similar favoritism, with tiny  two seaters sports cars that never saw a public road required to have a trunk big enough to hold an “FIA suitcase”. 

And then there was Ferrari… The legendary Italian racing team that built a couple thousand road cars in a good year to satisfy the FIA’s “production car” requirements and bring in a few bucks to subsidize the racing team. Subsidies probably also flowed from the larger Italian auto industry, Ferrari being a source of national pride. Thus when Ford tried the simple path to racing victories of buying Ferrari and probably repainting the race cars Ford blue and slapping on blue ovals, Ferrari replied with a guerrilla war of noncooperation and then outright killed the deal.

The simple route to winning the FIA’s world endurance racing championship blocked, Ford took “Total Performance” to the world’s road racing tracks, enlisting a troupe of racing mercenaries including the legendary Carroll Shelby. Using then new NASA and computer technology Ford developed the GT40 and it’s Ford engine into a race winning car that could set fast lap while running day and night like a Ford tractor plowing and planting before an incoming storm. 

 

There’s a movie out last weekend, Ford vs. Ferrari, that details that story much better than I can. While more people saw that movie that polished Ford’s image and told the story of Ford’s contributions to the art and science of mobility during that legendary era of Ford’s “Total Performance” programs, there was not a single mention of the movie over at media.ford.com, Ford’s official media mouthpiece. They were putting on their own show in the halo of this weeks Los Angles Auto Show, renting a nearby theater for Sunday evening and even bringing in a whole choir from Detroit. 

So with the requisite high theatrical production and special effects Bill Ford and Ford’s latest incompetent pretender CEO introduced a new electric SUV, and a reasonably competent one at that. For about the same just under $40k taxpayer subsidized price as a Tesla 3 econobox you get a real car, and in the Ford tradition it’ll probably be rated to tow. Lay out $50-60k and you get all wheel drive and even in the neighborhood of 400HP,  It’ll need those HP, while the econobox sized ‘lectric cars can get by with 40 to 60 kilowatt hour batteries, this SUV sized ‘lectric car cuts a bigger hole through  the air and needs a darn near 100 KWH battery to manage a 300 mile range, and only 270 with all wheel drive. It’s telling too that while ford has given us pages of specs, hey haven’t told us what it weights.

So Ford’s new electric SUV rates as least a B+ grade. But it came on stage in an atmosphere of anger that started when months ago Ford previewed it with Mustang styled lights and threatened to use the fabled “Mach” word in its name. The Mustang has a substantial and financially qualified following, and Ford best not anger them. Ford apparently wasn’t listening to their Mustang loving followers, as they shoved the dagger in deeper with leaks that revealed that this ‘lectric SUV would be called a “Mustang”. Meanwhile the electric car faithful, that core market that’s been driving 50 in the 55 zone that’s now a 70 zone for the last few decades in their Prius and now a Tesla wasn’t tuning in at all- You’d get more attention out of them if you called it a Falcon.

So when Ford opened internet ordering on Sunday night they didn’t break the internet, heck their website didn’t even slow. Ford media hasn’t been proudly forthcoming with claims of thousands of orders, and a day in the “limited edition” model still hasn’t sold out. More important to the close to retirement and loaded with stock options guys who run Ford, the stock bumped up barely a percent then right back down. The Mustang faithful are steaming, and the automotive press other than the ‘lectric car faithful are amplifying their anger at Ford’s ‘lectric pretender pony car. 

It takes in the neighborhood of a billion dollars to bring a new car to market, and this one being a whole new platform and drivetrain, make that several billion. And thanks to Ford’s incompetent leadership they just flushed those billions down the drain. Sorry Ford, but you can’t run from your proud heritage of GT40s, Louisvilles, N series tractors, Transits, and especially the Mustang!

The current occupant of the White House is dumping the EPA’s tightening of auto emission regulations that would have reduced Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) via tightening MPG requirements over the next few years. In response to that gross unscientific stupidity, Minnesota’s Governor Walz proposed adopting the California standards, which are pretty much the same as the standards Trump killed. So it was that last night the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency held a meeting in my rural corner of the state to explain and get public feedback on the proposal…

The are two California standards proposed, the first is the Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standard that ratchets up automakers average MPG to a theoretical 50 MPG or so. Theoretical because only some small cars have to meet that standard and the MPG goals drop with size to the point where a big ol’ pickup with a barely 20 MPG rating can waltz right through. That explains why the automakers gave up the fight on this regulation so easily and BMW, Ford, and VW say they’ll meet it whether required to or not. If we had any real climate change fighting courage we’d adopt the tougher EU standards that will require max GHG of 100 grams/kilometer, which is better than 40 MPG for anything smaller than a working truck or minibus. The other standard, the Zero Emissions Vehicle Standard (ZEV), demands that 6% of a car makers output must be electric cars. That explains the phenomenon of “compliance cars” with tiny batteries and inadequate range sold at a loss only in states that follow California’s ZEV standard.

The LEV standard, wimpy as it be, actually has potential to produce double digit reductions in GHG emissions. The ZEV standard is basically PC on wheels, given that it takes 20+ years to turn the nation’s auto fleet over and electric cars have a life of only 10, sometime after 2040 the ZEV standard will push us up to maybe a whole 3% electric cars on the road. Figure in that electric cars displace small high MPG cars anyway, some of the electricity fueling them will come from dirty sources, and some of the conventional cars will be running on renewable biofuels… The ZEV standard will maybe give us a whole one percent reduction of GHGs in a couple decades.

So we’ve got an LEV standard that’s an easy choice, a big reduction in GHGs and drivers fuel costs with almost no downside… I should know ‘cause I’ve been driving VW diesel LEVs for the last four decades. The ZEV standard is barely worth arguing over… It just plain won’t accomplish much.

So comes the meeting and the PCA presenter gets through maybe a half an hour of explaining, only to be interrupted by a luddite who argues the whole regulation was unconstitutional, with a couple of his fellow luddites joining the interruption. Clearly they’d skipped outta Civics 101, the constitutional authority of the government to establish rules for the general welfare of the citizenry being well settled law.

Noting that the luddites weren’t waiting for their time to speak, this cued the ‘lectric car fanatics to take the floor with their own near religious testimonials. Clearly they’d played hooky outa science classes as well as Econ 101, thinking their little Bolt, Leaf, or Tesla was going to save the world by replacing the couple hundred gallons of fuel a year they burn with ‘lectricity half produced with sometimes even dirtier fossil fuel. This cued the dealer’s lobbyist, or at least he claimed to be, who got up and unleashed the standard FUD about higher costs and less choices. Seeing an opening, I countered by chiding him for stupidly opposing a ZEV regulation that will shower them with electric cars that they’ll have a monopoly on repairing and half the life of a conventional small car, and those $40k price tags pack a lot a profit!

The stupid kept coming for the rest of the meeting, with testimonials of the glory of big ass pickups countered by testimonials to the glory of overpriced throw away electric cars that will save the clean air of tiny Morris, Minnesota. The ‘lectric car fanatics even had a conspiracy theory that they couldn’t buy electric cars in Minnesota… cars.com lists something like 176 for sale within day trip distance… But these zealots weren’t about to let their not so righteous indignation be scuttled by reality. I tried to interject some bits of science, but neither side would have it- This was an argument between religious zealots, with neither side interested in real solutions.

Heck, why would they drive a 40+ MPG diesel car that rivals an electric for GHG production while doing the work of a big ol’ pickup when they can make a “statement” with said funny looking ‘lectric car or jacked up pickup?